Here we go, this is the big one; the one nobody gets out of alive.
I am going to be very basic here, at least to begin with and tell you things you may already know, and some things that will surprise you. In fact, the ageing process, and how fast it sets in, surprised my twenty-year old son when I read it to him.
First, let’s break down the process in conventional terms, by age groups.
Explaining the way in which these groups are supposed to age, but remember:
WE DO NOT NEED TO AGE THIS WAY.
1. Age group 25 -35
By 25 years old, the actual outward signs of ageing begin – by this I mean, the beginning of crow’s feet around the eyes, with some wrinkles and skin discoloration due to sun damage. Inside the body, bone mass (the amount of bone and strength of the bones) has peaked by the age of 30 and then begins a gradual decline as muscle mass (and strength) decreases yearly, particularly with the more sedentary lifestyles that come with office jobs or sitting in front of a computer. With this bone and muscle decline comes a diminished capacity for physical work, or exercise, resulting in a loss of full range of motion in basic movements like squatting or reaching upwards; this is due to the shortening of muscle and connective tissue. Aerobic capacity (the capacity to use and consume oxygen) diminishes after age of 32 as the heart (a muscular organ) begins to lose strength and efficiency causing blood pressure to rise. Stamina decreases. While this is happening the body has begun to digest and metabolize food (convert it to energy) less efficiently, usually leading to a gradual increase in body weight. Until stress, the silent killer, rears its ugly head as pressures from work and relationships (marriage) take their toll. Often, more alcohol is consumed in order to relax and stress-related eating disorders begin. Finally, sleep patterns change with less time spent in deep sleep, so recovery from varying types of stress is compromised.
Breathing may slowly transition from nose breathing (begun in infancy and continued into young adulthood) to a combination of nose and mouth breathing, beginning a gradual decline in the breathing mechanism as the diaphragm (the breathing muscle) loses tone and the lungs lose capacity.
2. Age group 35 – 44
By the age of 35 there has been about 6 pounds of muscle mass loss, and by 40 the density of the bones has begun to decrease at about .5 to 1 percent per year (eventually leading to osteoporosis, and the likelihood of bones breaking from falls). General flexibility continues to decrease while capacity for physical work (exercise) declines as the body accumulates fat.
The breathing muscles - diaphragm, intercostal muscles (that raise the rib cage during intake of breath) – begin to lose strength and tone, causing less efficient respiration. The rate of breathing begins to increase from 12 to 18 breaths per minute, causing decreased oxygenation in the cells and a decreased ability to deal with both physical and mental stress.
Sleep patterns deteriorate with more nocturnal awakenings, impeding recovery from mental stress or physical trauma.
Breathing becomes more mouth oriented, as opposed to breathing exclusively through nose; this includes breathing through the mouth while asleep causing snoring and broken sleep.
The breathing mechanism, diaphragm, abdominal and intercostal muscles lose tone and begin to atrophy.
3. Age group 45 – 54
Between the ages of 45 and 54 there is decreased lung capacity due to a stiffening (use it, or lose it) of the muscles (intercostal) affecting the ribcage and loss of tone in the diaphragm. This causes more air to be left in the lungs – 70 percent of our body’s toxins are released during exhalation – disturbing the alkaline/acidity balance (PH) and leaving the body in a predominant state of of acidity. (Cancer develops and thrives in an acidic environment). Without the proper inflow (we breath in nitrogen, argon, carbon dioxide and oxygen) and release (exhale) of carbon dioxide (which dilates the cells enabling them to absorb more oxygen) blood flow is diminished and circulation is inadequate to fully energize the body.
Sedentary lifestyle and lack of proper exercise causes a further loss of muscle strength and mass, and deterioration in bone density. The immune system suffers as blood flow decreases while the lymphatic system, responsible for carrying disease fighting white blood cells to areas of infection and then carrying the diseased or dead cells out of the body, deteriorates as breathing becomes more shallow and mouth (as opposed to nose) oriented.
By age 51 most women have begun menopause while the first notable signs of prostate enlargement is evident in men, blocking the flow of urine from the bladder (causing frequent urination).
Lack of exercise and improper (mouth and chest) breathing further weakens the heart muscle, making it less efficient. Causing it to beat faster in order to provide blood-carrying oxygen to the body. This, in turn, heightens blood pressure and forces an increase in shallow respiration, an unhealthy and potentially dangerous cycle.
All systems – musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and respiratory – conspire as they decline, causing an inability to deal with Stress as sleep patterns further deteriorate.
Oxygen is medicine, and by 45 – 54 the body is generally not getting enough.
4. Age group: 55 – 64
Heart and lung capacities decrease. Bone density decreases. Muscle loss has been about 2 percent per year for at least twenty years causing strength to be significantly diminished. Stamina decreases. There are more episodes of depression. Stress, created by physical problems, anxiety and fear (of ageing and death) become more prevalent. Chronic, recurring, disease increases.
Mouth breathing becomes more common than nose breathing, with breathing rate accelerated to over 18 breaths per minute, placing more strain on the heart and creating a greater risk of heart attack.
The lungs shrink from lack of complete use of the breathing mechanism and poor breathing patterns. The diaphragm loses tone. Less oxygen is reaching the brain, which is losing up to 10,000 cells per day, effecting memory, coordination and general brain function. Constipation is more likely because the digestive juices are no longer flowing properly – partly due to the lack of stimulation and massage from the main breathing muscle, the diaphragm.
Stress-related diseases – autoimmune and some forms of cancer – increase. Appearance of skin deteriorates with lack of blood flow and circulation. Most women have completed menopause. Men have significant testosterone decrease and many experience lower sex drive and erectile dysfunction. Sleep apnea is common, meaning there are pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep, accompanied by bouts of restlessness and insomnia.
Recovery from physical exertion and any form of illness is compromised by the lack of proper rest.
5. Age Group: 65 – 74
Old age has officially set in.
Bone density is less and muscle mass and strength have diminished enough to effect balance; making falls the main cause of death in older people. Incontinence is more common as the sphincters (circular muscles surrounding the openings in the body) have become lax as the pelvic floor (the hammock of muscle that supports the lower organs) weakens and loses tone while bladder capacity has been cut in half between the ages of 30 and 70, while the prostate has enlarged; frequent urination and lessening control of bowels is common. The lungs have shrunken and many of the millions of alveoli (tiny air sacs in which the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide take place) have become saggy, atrophied and non-functional from improper breathing – oxygen is entering through the mouth and filling the upper chest region only. The great breathing muscle, the diaphragm, has lost much of its tone (inadequate exercise from improper breathing) and no longer massages and stimulates the heart, liver and lymphatic system, making the body susceptible to disease. Breathing is basically mouth-based and employs only the upper portion of the lungs, creating sleep problems – apnea, snoring and insomnia - while impeding recovery from physical and psychological stress. The body, in general, is general is less oxygenated and hypoxia may result leading to shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure and mild confusion. An array of drugs – statins to lower cholesterol levels, beta-blockers for hypertension or high blood pressure, diuretics for high blood pressure, drugs to treat frequent urination, erectile dysfunction, etc. – are prescribed; each with a side effect. The body is generally less equipped to deal with stress, of any kind.
This doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?
6. Age 75 - 84
By age 75 there has been substantial degeneration of the muscular system (sarcopenia) as the human body loses about seven pounds of muscle every ten years, which means metabolism, the manufacture of energy from food (muscles requires more energy than fat), has significantly slowed. This deterioration accelerates the ageing process. Living, and by that I mean accomplishing everyday chores, becomes stressful. By age 80, strength has decreased by more than 50 percent; movements like standing up from a chair or pulling open a refrigerator door become difficult or impossible. Risk of falling and breaking bones has increased dramatically, all culminating in a loss of independence. This lack of independence further increases stress levels. It becomes a vicious cycle: stress leads to illness and deterioration, deterioration and illness leads to more stress. Diabetes and heart disease are common. The breathing mechanism – by now centered mainly in the upper thorax with respiration in and out the mouth - is inadequate to sufficiently oxygenate the body and brain. The immune system weakens and the body is susceptible to all kinds of illnesses and diseases, particularly of the heart, lungs and brain.
Average life expectancy is approximately 79 – 82 years.
So… It’s all - downhill from the age of 32? Hold on – there’s more.
Let’s go a step further… Usually, I try to stay away from scientific stuff, the stuff I don’t deeply understand, like DNA and telomeres, but it is essential to understand both of them at a basic level when considering the process of ageing and the stages described in the section above.
DNA is the material carried in our cells that is self-replicating, like a blueprint. In other words, as our bodies regenerate – cells dividing as the bones, skin and organs are in a continual state of renewal and regeneration over time or after injury – the DNA (our genetic blueprint) is transferred from the old cell to the new cell, replicating itself; passing along the distinctive characteristics and basic qualities that make us up as individuals. These tiny strands of DNA are capped for their own protection, like the plastic caps on the ends of a shoelace; these caps are called telomeres, and like the plastic caps on shoelaces they are designed to protect the strand of DNA, and keep it from fraying and shortening during cell division; enabling the DNA to replicate itself accurately and completely.
But… Over time – our lifetime – as our cells age and divide over and over again, (cancer causes the cells to divide much more often) the telomeres do fray and shorten and DNA is lost with each division until it is finally unable to replicate, resulting in death.
Certain things augment and speed up this process: obesity, cigarette smoke, bad diet, stress, insomnia, faulty breathing habits (chest and mouth breathing) lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyle. Causing the body to age, disease, and die prematurely.
“ People who do strength training at least two days a week are 46% less likely to die from any cause. They are 41% less likely to die from heart disease, and 19% less likely to die from cancer.” Journal Of Preventative Medicine.
Diaphragmatic breathing lowers the resting heart rate, increases the release of Human Growth Hormone, improves the speed of recovery from illness or physical activity and improves sleep, strengthens the immune system, and lengthens the cells lifespan by increasing lymphatic flow (the body’s cleansing mechanism).
Diaphragmatic breathing reduces stress - the chronic stress that shortens the length of telomeres and damages cell reproduction while prematurely ageing the body and shortening its lifespan.
Intense exercise also works at a cellular level, directly affecting the length of the telomeres; exercise helps retain the length of the telomeres.
It is what is happening on the inside of the body that really counts:
Progressive resistance exercise combined with controlled diaphragmatic breathing is preventative medicine; working at a cellular level, it significantly aids in combating disease and delays the ageing process.
Biological age is far more important that chronological age. A physically fit 60 year old can have the biological age of a 45 year old, and vice versa. Breathing is the key. Oxygenation of the body is the main ingredient in biological age.
The intention of REAL STRENGTH NOW training is to teach the student to understand the body from the inside, out and become his or her own teacher. Everything else, health of mind and body, will flow from this training. BREATH IS LIFE.
My own personal experience
I am 71 years old, so I’ve had a bit of experience with ageing. Particularly since I have been a martial artist and competitive athlete at varying stages of my life and can remember my old times as a swimmer, the stress of taking dan gradings in Shotokan style karate, the exhaustion of rounds of sparring in boxing rings and many of my strength plateaus as a bodybuilder.
I have often gained honest perspective of my own ageing process by my abilities or inabilities to accomplish the same goals that I accomplished in my athletic prime or at various stages along the course of my physical life. In other words, I may still feel as strong and as fast as I was at twenty, but my body has changed and it let’s me know in exactly what way when I challenge it. Honesty is a great teacher, and training is a great way to stay honest.
Sometimes, at least in my own case, it requires a test to acknowledge that change, and to accept it, and perhaps gain a bit of humility in the process, but a challenge always provides insight into the nature of my own health, both mental and physical.
Every workout should, at some point, be a challenge.
Acceptance is a necessary part of the healthy ageing process, and in order to accept, it is necessary to relax, both mentally and physically.
Breath is the basis of relaxation, both mental and physical (as one necessarily precedes the other).
I have been injured many times, both on the floors of dojos (training halls), in boxing rings, in the gym, and on – or falling off – motorcycles. I have also suffered an autoimmune disease, in other words my immune system has broken down under stress.
Sometimes, misfortune is a great teacher, and stress is a stern taskmaster, and each of these ‘accidents or illnesses’ has been a lesson, and each, along with the passing years, has taught me a lot about ageing.
Here’s what I have learned:
Ageing begins with the oxygenation of the body, or lack of, so always begin with the breath. By this I mean re-training the breath to originate in the belly with the use of the diaphragm, which separates the thorax (chest) from the abdomen. The nose should be the main channel of inhalation and exhalation although this may change to mouth exhalation during strenuous exercise. This will effectively oxygenate the body while massaging the vital organs – heart, liver, kidneys stomach and spleen – as well as activating the lymphatic system. In other words, correct diaphragmatic breathing is the most important thing we can do, and learn to do. Establish this pattern of breathing and practice it consciously during training sessions and at various times during the day. Practice may be brief, as little as three minutes.
Like every other muscle, the Pelvic Floor must be exercised regularly. The PF is actually a group of muscles, tendons, nerves and ligaments that join the pubic bone to the coccyx (frontal bone to the tail bone); it supports the lower organs of the body. In women these organs include the bladder, uterus, vagina and rectum. In men the organs supported by the PF are the bladder and the rectum, while the prostate gland that sits above the bladder is also supported and affected by the PF. It is important, particularly as we age, that the Pelvic Floor does not become lax and sag – this causes the organs that it supports to lose shape and tone, leading to problems with continence and sexual function in both men and women. PF exercises (contractions) should be regularly added to conscious diaphragmatic breathing, in conjunction with strength and movement exercises, to ensure the support and function of these organs.
Flexibility should begin with the spine. A supple spine linked to good posture is the key to a supple and young body. Exercise the spine.
Exercise, including exercises in flexibility, should be coordinated with diaphragmatic breathing. This is breath and movement and breath and movement is the key to health and longevity.
Exercise for the skeletal muscles and bones should be brief, efficient (intense) and sustainable. Progressive resistance exercise is the most effective means of stimulating the skeletal muscles and bones (density). Again, correct diaphragmatic breathing should be consciously employed when engaged in exercise, of any kind.
The body works on the principle of “use it or lose it.” This includes the breathing mechanism – diaphragm, intercostal muscles and lungs - the bones and the muscles. A sustainable method of exercise combined with diaphragmatic breathing is necessary to use it.
Recovery is as important as exercise. All exercise must be balanced with the time it takes to fully recover from that exercise: for the body to rest, digest and regenerate. Recovery time increases with age and finding the balance between exercise and recovery is the art and science of training for longevity
Meditation is an important exercise for the mind and body, and a natural stress reliever.
Exercise of any kind, including meditation, should begin and end with breath.
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