Health and balance: Your choice - and yours alone!


Happy 2006, and welcome to my first column for Fitness JP! I realized recently that I've been writing about health and fitness for various publications for 15 years now, and I'm happy and honored to be contributing my knowledge to Fitness JP as well.

At 40, I feel young. My stress levels are low. I exercise and eat right, use supplements properly, train my mind, and adhere to a balanced lifestyle. All of these things retard the aging process. You can think of aging as a monumental, progressive deficiency disease that begins in adulthood, picks up in the middle years (30 seems to be the age that tells us we're mortal) and takes a monumental leap after 50. You can't stop aging, but your choices in lessening deficiencies can slow it down greatly. If you're over 30, please read closely. Even if you're younger, you should pay attention.

First, let me tell you about some of the changes that aging causes:

  • Heart - Your heart grows slightly larger with age. In adult life, maximum oxygen consumption declines by 1 percent per year for men and 0.75 percent for women.
  • Lungs - Your maximum breathing capacity may decline by 0.8 percent per year between the ages of 20 and 70. That's 40 percent!
  • Brain - Aging causes the loss of some brain cells (neurons), and others become damaged; increasing synaptic connections to carry the messages offset this.
  • Kidneys - Your kidneys gradually become less efficient at extracting blood-waste products. Bladder capacity declines and urinary incontinence may result. (This can be managed by exercise and behavioral techniques.)
  • Body fat - Fat is redistributed from under the skin to deeper, more central parts of the body, in the hips and thighs for women and around the internal organs of the abdominals for men.
  • Muscles - Between the ages of 20 and 70, women who do not exercise can expect a 22-percent reduction in muscle mass, and men a 23-percent loss. Exercise can prevent this. Muscle changes often begin for men in their 20s and for women in their 40s. How much is up to genetics and lifestyle.
  • Vision - For those in their 40s, close-up focusing difficulty can begin; at 50 and over, susceptibility to glare and difficulty seeing with lower illumination and detecting moving targets. From seventy onwards, there can be increasing problems in distinguishing fine detail.
  • Hearing - Difficulty in hearing higher frequencies becomes more common. Men lose their hearing quicker than women.
  • Personality - At 30, personality is considered stable/established. Sudden changes after this age usually suggest disease.
  • Recovery - It takes longer to recover from intense exercise, and exercise intensity thresholds lessen with age.
  • Body shape - The amount and distribution of fat, lean tissue (muscles and organs), bones, water and other substances give our body a "typical" contour at various ages. A child, young adult, and elderly adult have different "shapes."
  • Height - Your height progressively decreases by an average of a centimeter per decade after the age of 40, and even greater after 70. The total loss can be from 2.5cm to 7cm! This is partially due to bone changes in the arch of your feet, but the primary cause is spinal disc-fluid loss. Losing fluid makes discs thinner. Another contributor is mineral loss in the vertebrae, which makes them thinner.
  • Posture changes - Excess forward head posture develops, and the T-spinal column becomes kyphotic (forward bending) and compressed. Bone spurs may develop. Remember, those vertebrae house and protect the spinal cord. Long bones of the arms and legs don't shorten, which makes them appear longer.
  • Joints - Your joints become less flexible and may lose fluids, causing cartilage to rub. Calcification (mineral deposits in joints) may also occur. Hips and knees may begin to degenerate and lose structure. Finger joints lose cartilage and the bones thicken slightly (this is more common in women).
  • Nervous system - Your nervous system weakens with age, which reduces muscle tone and contractibility.

What does all that mean? Your bones become increasingly brittle, breaking easier under stresses they would have withstood earlier. Your height decreases; joint structures break down, creating pain, stiffness, inflammation and deformity. Your posture alters, becomes progressively kyphotic (or forward flexing), with knees and hips more flexed. Your head moves forward and your shoulders narrow. The pelvis widens. Movement slows. The nervous system and muscles weaken. Your gait pattern slows, your stride shortens and becomes less steady, and your arms swing less. Your overall energy level drops, making fatigue arrive sooner. Improper training programs and ignoring good posture will expedite and create some of these.

It's pretty depressing, right? But now that we know what aging produces, our collective goal is to slow it down and prevent some of its byproducts. How? With a positive mindset, the right plan, and necessary equipment! A good mechanic uses the right tools for the job.

Here are your mental and physical tools:

  • Eliminate stressors and negatives, meaning people, thoughts, gossip and anything that doesn't positively add to your life. Negatives accelerate aging and are always things you create or allow, period.
  • Stop smoking
  • Start an exercise program that corrects musculoskeletal and orthopedic faults, then move into a functional fitness program
  • Balance your nutrition, including supplements
  • Always strive to improve yourself as a person
  • Exercise your mind. Read books, articles, participate in hobbies that cause you to focus and concentrate. Remember, that mind-muscle link is critical, and the mind is always the determinant in success or failure, achievement and accomplishment.
  • Teach others and treat them as you wish to be treated. Every day you make the decisions that govern your future. These "tools" will increase your quality of life (and that of those around you) in a positive manner, influencing every aspect of it and retarding aging.

Successful, happy and healthy people exhibit common traits. They focus on the green, not the bunkers. They see solutions, not problems. They don't seek quick fixes. They persevere. They find the good in people and treat them with respect. And they exercise mentally and physically. Applying these umbrella traits will develop the patterns and mindset that you require for self-improvement. "If you only ever do what you've done, you'll only ever get what you got." Often making the right choices means taking the path least followed.

Stop smoking! The estimated number of worldwide deaths from tobacco in 1995 was 3,125,000! There are 18 different poisons in a cigarette, and each cigarette may reduce your lifespan by seven minutes. Nicotine, as a poison, is second only to cyanide in its destructive effects on the human body. Smokers are twice as liable as nonsmokers to get heart disease, which is responsible for one in every three deaths in persons between 35 and 64. Secondary smoke is just as potent a killer. So put 粗m out and quit killing yourself and those around you! Quitting is a process, and requires a tough mindset. But if you want to, you will.

Everyone presents some orthopedic faults or muscular imbalances. Adding improper exercise to bad posture overloads joints and muscles, causing either acute or insidious injury. Exercise is serious business, and as my friend Paul Chek says, "What you don't know can hurt you."

With that in mind, let me share a scenario of cooperation and cause and effect in the body: The thoracic spine (T-spine) should extend when the arms are raised overhead. A functional shoulder joint cannot raise the arm overhead to 180ー unless the shoulder blade (scapula) contributes the final 60ー (this teamwork is called the scapulo-humeral rhythm). But in someone with excess forward head posture, the shoulder joints pull and rotate inward, causing short, tight pec minor muscles and excess T-spine kyphosis (flexion). This disrupts your shoulder blade, shoulder joint and T-spine mechanics, and affects your ribcage position and breathing mechanics. Repetitiously raising your arms overhead with this posture will develop what's known as shoulder impingement syndrome.

Similarly, excess T-spine kyphosis can create a flatter low back, causing improper low-back mechanics and a posterior pelvic rotation that produces short, tight hamstrings in the backs of the legs. The entire spinal column loses its optimum curvatures, disrupting its strength, health, performance and longevity. There's no such thing as isolation!

See how all this applies to your workouts? When any orthopedic structure is misaligned, joint mechanics and musculoskeletal stresses everywhere are altered. Some of you may have just had that mysterious shoulder pain or headache explained. Exercises that do not work for the above are standard machine training, bench presses, lat pulldowns, shoulder presses, biceps curls, leg presses, knee extensions and crunches.

Combating aging poses the obvious question: How should we exercise to slow it? The primary reasons to exercise are: 1) correct postural deficiencies; 2) improve performance; and 3) slow aging. All other goals will be met automatically. Machines, isolated muscle exercises and bodybuilding routines aren't optimum. They don't improve our needs. For example, how do bench presses correct forward head posture?

What we use and how we train are the keys to maximizing our health and fitness goals. Your equipment should include Swiss balls, medicine balls, bodyblades, Fitters, rebounders, a TotalGymョ, free weights, JumpStretch bands, Vortex machines, VertiMax training, etc. Training programs must be ground-based (meaning stand, don't sit), utilize a lot of unilateral work (standing on one leg versus two), involve multiple planes of movement, enhance proprioception, and activate the nervous system. They must strengthen postural and stabilizer musculature, be highly three-dimensional for joint stability, improve and strengthen movement patterns. The exercises must also be full range of motion. Eliminate fixed machines as much as possible!

Your work or sport requirements are highly three-dimensional, fully engage your postural and stabilizer muscles, and demand intensive nervous-system activation. This applies to everyone from moms to running backs! Question: What range of motion and how many muscles are involved in the following activities: accidentally missing the curb and catching your balance, a round of golf, picking up or playing with your child in the park, cleaning house, carrying groceries, working in the garden or playing a tennis match? Answer: Full range of motion and many muscles and movement patterns! So why would you train on machines that are one- or two-dimensional, operate from a fixed axis, shut off postural and stabilizer musculature, create pattern overload, and allow the nervous system to go to sleep? That program is the opposite of your needs!

Here's your million-dollar question: Name one situation that requires the isolation of a single muscle to complete the movement. For those of you thinking "the 12-oz. curl," sorry! The correct answer is none.

Muscles produce different strengths at different positions, and the majority of work and sport movements use a full range of motion! Train them in the way you use them most預t full range! Could you imagine training a golfer or softball player with partial range of motion exercises and then having them go out and participate in an event? That kind of training is used to achieve certain strengths. If you are going to use it properly, understand the technical physiology behind it.

Follow a good diet. If you want to lose fat, feel lighter and more energetic, eliminate bread totally and don't eat starchy carbs past 2 p.m. You don't need them. Eat fruits and veggies (the ten best of which are avocados, berries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, citrus fruit, grapes, onions, spinach and tomatoes). Also eat fish, soybean foods, olives, olive oil and yogurt, and drink lots of black, green and oolong teas. Take vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene and selenium. Juice Plus supplements get my nod as the multi-vitamin/mineral of choice. Take ginkgo biloba, garlic, phytonutrients and pycogenol by Nature's Best. Limit your intake of sugar, caffeine, red meats, bad fats, iron and sodium.

And if you want to optimize aerobics, do them in the morning before eating遥ou can burn up to 300 percent more fat!

Destiny is an individual choice. This article has supplied you with a lot of commonsense, quality information. Focus your attitude, define your goals, eliminate the negatives and if necessary redirect your efforts. Seek a qualified personal trainer to help you or stop by the new EastWest Fitness personal training center, Japan's most progressive and most complete fitness studio. The only thing stopping you is ... you!

Together in Purpose,
Jeff Libengood (03-3264-6999)

Discuss this Article

Be the first to discuss this article

You have to be logged in to participate in the article discussions