A new study published by Mayo Clinic found that exercising for short-term results — endurance exercise for weight loss, or ultra-heavy weight lifting to beef up — may actually be counterproductive for longevity and health.
We have known this for a long time, which is why we advocate a resistance exercise program that focuses instead on developing the five traits associated with youthfulness: flexibility, speed, strength, good posture, and leanness. When people engage in the right kind of exercise, they don’t become haggard, sore, injured, tired, and stiff. What’s more, resistance exercises, when done correctly, help people feel better and live longer.
No matter what your age — even if you start at 80 — it’s possible to regain the size, flexibility, and medical markers of a much younger person. Three decades of research and experience as trainers and athletes have shown us that just 30 minutes a day of speed-lifting light hand weights, a regular practice of managing stress, and eating healthfully can make your whole body flexible, strong, fast, lean, and properly aligned — all components of youthfulness.
Here are five ways to look and feel younger, regardless of your biological age.
1. Get flexible.
Flexibility is the capacity of the muscles and tendons to elongate or shorten for the purpose of movement — that is, of moving bones in key parts of the body. We lose flexibility because of how we live, not because we age. One way to regain flexibility is to do the same stretches every day until you eventually can stand from a full squat, or bend over and touch your toes, or bring your nose to your knees sitting with your legs outstretched.
2. Be strong.
When we age, our muscles tend to atrophy and our joints tend to wear away. Eventually we become weaker and slower, and we develop chronic pain and are vulnerable to osteoporosis and brittle bones. The best way to get strong is to start lifting weights. It’s better for the body to lift light weights quickly than to lift heavy weights slowly. This is how you build up flexible, strong muscles.
3. Speed up.
One of the hallmarks of old age is slowing down. When we age, we walk slower, get out of chairs and cars slower, and react more slowly. Our reflexes are delayed, which can lead to falling. But you can become faster at any age. Getting faster is a function of these other four youthfulness factors. But one way to start getting faster is simply to speed up. Every time you take a walk, push yourself to sprint for 10 seconds or so, and do this intermittently.
4. Get lean.
Leanness is the optimal percentage of fat to muscle. When people age, they lose muscle and gain fat, which can trigger a cascade of health problems. Some simple ways to lose fat, but not muscle, are to eat twice as many fruits and vegetables as any other food at lunch and dinner; eat every three hours, but only the amount that can be burned in two hours; and eat nutritionally complete foods at every snack and meal — foods with protein, sugar, fiber, minerals, and vitamins in the right proportions. Avoid endurance exercising like stationary biking or treadmilling for burning calories. All you’re doing is wearing out your joints.
5. Straighten up.
For good posture, all weightlifters end their training sessions by decompressing their spines. To fight the forces of gravity — the stooping and slumping one often sees in elderly people — daily decompression is crucial. We recommend an inversion table — a piece of equipment you lie on with your feet hooked under at the top and your head at the end tilting downward, gently stretching out your spine. Lifting light weights and doing floor exercises also strengthens your back and abdomen, helping you stand and sit erect.