Five Ways Women Can Age Better

When I look back on the aging women (and men) around me in my family I see a common theme – Type 2 Diabetes, Insulin Resistance, High Cholesterol, Gout, Low Back Pain, Weight gain, knee pain, thyroid issues and Alzheimer’s/Dementia. 

I can say that my mother and father as well as grandparents on both sides had AT LEAST 3 of the above “diagnoses”. 

Today the only one living is my father at the age of 82 but I would argue to call it “living”.  My father has ALL OF THE ABOVE except for Alzheimer’s although if his blood sugar is elevated – you would swear he is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Notice that we do not have a strong history of cancers in our family.  Most of the diseases that run in our family are lifestyle driven and PREVENTABLE.  Even my mother, who passed away at the young age of 62 (I was only 29) passed of a staph infection and became septic.  Looking back on her health – she too likely had hormone imbalances and likely some type of undiagnosed autoimmune disease as well as Lyme Disease.  She also was hypothyroid and possibly had Hashimoto’s because her thyroid levels swung all over the place without stabilizing.  Today I know this to be a red flag for Hashi’s but 16 years ago I was not educated enough to alert my mother.  If my mother had a physician or someone to help her understand that her body was fighting off so many stressors both physiologically and psychologically – she likely would not have succumbed to something like a staph infection resulting in sepsis.  She likely would be alive today.

When we talk about diagnoses like the ones stated above we call it “AGING” be we really can call it “DETERIORATION”. Aging does not have to mean “deterioration”.  Aging can be a much kinder process and we can live a life that has more vitality, strength and balance. We can live a life where we can participate in many activities and events vs. sitting on a bench as a mere observer.  

My goal for myself is to control what I CAN control.  I also will be a full participant in my aging process and not allow myself to become victim to the “status quo” of what is expected for people “our age”.

Granted, today I am only 45 years old but the time starts now to stay on top of any vulnerabilities that speed up the aging process.  I already feel some of the effects of aging. 

  • My eyesight has taken a rapid turn for the worse.  
  •  My ability to recover from my workouts takes a bit longer – albeit I can easily deadlift 225lbs. + and I am stronger today than I was in my 20’s. 
  •  My hormones can be a bit turbulent and I am hypothyroid.

But so far – that is it.  I have no back pain, no knee pain, my skin is still in good shape and I am not overweight.  I can easily eat 2300 calories a day with 250 grams of carbs and not gain weight.

I can thank weight training for this. 

What does it look like to AGE BETTER?  

1.  Prioritize Strength Training

Studies repeatedly show a correlation between how strong you are and how long you will live.  Basically, the stronger you are the more longevity you have in life.  We all know that if we don’t “use it we lose it” and that staying strong helps us to stay fit, lean and more physically able but the impact of strength training does something much more significant on a cellular level.

We all hear a lot of buzz words around “inflammation” these days and people may say that their bodies are “inflamed”.  Yes, inflammation is a big problem as it enables disease to take hold but strength training is the only activity that can truly “put the fire out” consistently.

There are 2 main cytokines in the body that are directly related to exercise and inflammation and recovery – cytokine 6 (C-6) and cytokine 10 (C-10).  Cytokine 6 is the master chemical for DECAY and Cytokine 10 is the master chemical for REPAIR and GROWTH. 

Our lean mass (or muscle) holds both C-6 and C-10.  Look at this as a massive pool of youth hormone – if you do your part.  Yes, there is work to be done because we don’t get something for nothing! Strength training and aerobic training triggers the repair, renewal and growth process by producing C-6.  Now remember, C-6 is the chemical that sends the message that decaying damage has been done to the body.  Strength training releases C-10 which is the master chemical for REPAIR and GROWTH which essentially puts out the fire and controls inflammation.

Now let’s take this one step further.  Our bodies, when sedentary releases a slow trickle of C-6 but as we lose muscle mass from lack of exercise and the onset of sarcopenia (loss of muscle) we have less of the ability to “de-flame” or lower the amount of inflammation in the body. 

The normal day to day activities like walking up the stairs, getting up out of the chair, gardening, cleaning the house are not enough stress on the body to release the very important Cytokine 10 to put out the fire.  Strength training combined with cardio is the only activity that consistently keeps inflammation at bay. 

In addition, the effects of sarcopenia and being sedentary your muscles, brain connection and the controlling spinal reflex arcs get weak and unbalanced.  This is how we lose our center of gravity easily and falls occur.  The only thing that keeps these neural connections strong is strength training.

Muscle is a major metabolic organ.  It is a major consumer of carbs and glucose so basically the more muscle mass you have the more carbs your body can handle.  The less muscle mass you have the less your body tolerates carbs – hence why many people say the “do better on a low carb diet”. But eventually if they lose too much muscle mass from lack of exercise and consistent calorie deficits the problems only get worse and the ability to lose weight becomes more challenging.  These are the cases when women would say that they only eat 1400 calories and still cannot lose weight and this is typically due to an extremely low level of muscle mass.

Over time low levels of lean mass contributes to poor glucose/carb tolerance which leads to inflammation and weight gain which then leads to insulin resistance and pre-diabetes/diabetes.  Additionally, muscle mass is the “bank” for our amino acids so if you become ill or have a surgery or are injured recovery is much slower than if you had a large supply of amino acids in the body.  Protein, which contains amino acids,  is the great healer and contributes towards growth and recovery.

So in a nutshell, if you are not strength training and exercising then you are on a fast track to DECAY.  There is no such thing as “maintenance” after the age of 40 years old. 

Aim for GROWTH and STRENGTH so you do not suffer the effects of inflammation, sarcopenia and insulin resistance.  Commit to at least 3 days per week of strength training and cardio.

Laura, below - is 62 years old and can deadlift her bodyweight for 5 reps @ 125lbs.  She has literally grown younger within 1 year of training.

2.       Eat a enough protein to maintain muscle and bone density

Anti-aging researchers suggest that women over the age of 40 eat double the U.S. RDA requirement 1.6 g/kg or 120 grams daily for a 165lb. woman.  Although most people meet the U.S. RDA requirement the basic amount is not enough to protect against the loss of muscle and maintain function while slowing the aging process.  By maintaining enough lean mass women won’t experience such a drastic reduction in metabolic rate which in turn will prevent fat gain that is so common with women over 40.

Higher protein diets also are shown to increase satiety and lead to greater reduction in fat mass and total body weight compared to standard protein diets.  This study also shows that timing, quality of protein and per meal dose are also important to consider.

If you would like to know what foods to eat and how much to get your protein intake up – grab our FREE ALL ABOUT PROTEIN GUIDE HERE.

3.  Stay insulin sensitive 

It is safe to say that insulin resistance is the single most important diagnosis that speeds up the aging process.  The higher your insulin levels are the faster your body begins to age and deteriorate while putting your body at risk for diseases such as heart disease, dementia, stroke and cancer.

Some signs of insulin resistance are:

  • Increased Central Obesity
  • Fatigue/Falling asleep after eating
  • Sugar Cravings
  • Increased Inflammation (C-Reactive Protein and Sedimentation Rate)
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Triglycerides/Low HDL

Fortunately, insulin resistance can be diagnosed well before you hear the dreaded “Pre-diabetic” label but often these tests are not typically performed in routine physicals as most protocols wait for fasting glucose or A1C levels to be elevated.  In my opinion, this is a mistake as the warning signs can be found much sooner. 

In fact, many women struggle with the ability to lose weight because they are unknowingly insulin resistant.  They typically try to lose weight via a low calorie diet but progress is very slow and can be extremely frustrating early on especially when looking for some early wins on the scale.  Combine a low calorie diet with hunger and the nagging sugar cravings that come along with being insulin resistant make adhering to a weight loss plan akin to salmon swimming upstream.  This is not to say that weight loss is impossible, but it certainly makes it much more difficult. 

So how do you know if you are insulin resistant?  Ask for the right tests!

Options are:

  • 2 Hour Glucose Tolerance Test

         and/or

  • Fasting Insulin (this is NOT the same as fasting glucose or A1C).  Ask for your physician to calculate your HOMA-IR Score.   This stands for the Homeostatic Model Assessment of Insulin Resistance.  This shows the ratio between your fasting blood sugar and your insulin levels.

You can learn more about the HOMA-IR SCORE and calculate your own HOMA-IR SCORE HERE.

If you are diagnosed with insulin resistance your doctor or dietitian may recommend a low carb diet or even a modified ketogenic diet.  Your goal is to make your body more insulin sensitive and lower your levels of inflammation in your body.  Strength training and aerobic activity is extremely effective in helping fight insulin resistance.  

Take responsibility for your health and be an active participant.  Speak to your doctor about being tested for insulin resistance as this is one of the key factors to prime health.  Studies show that insulin resistance results from being sedentary, loss of muscle/sarcopenia and poor diet and not from growing old.

4. Get Enough Sleep

If you are serious about changing the composition of your body – enough sleep is going to be essential.  Difficult sleeping is one of the most common complaints we hear about from our members and it’s the first thing we help them address because once they begin sleeping better then they have the energy to handle the task of changing their body composition.

A study from the University of Chicago found that dieters who averaged 5 hours of sleep nightly lost significantly less body fat in comparison to dieters who slept on average of 8.5 hours per night.  Although both groups lost the same amount of “scale weight” the group that slept more lost significantly more “body fat”.  What this means is that the group who slept better retained more “lean mass” and therefore they are in more of an “anabolic” state.  This means that their body did not lose muscle mass due to increased stress on the body.  We want our bodies to avoid being in a “catabolic” state for extended periods of time.  Also, better sleep produces more Human Growth Hormone (Hgh). HGH is released by the brain during sleep and it is part of the repair and restore function of sleep.  HGH hormones promotes a healthy metabolism, better physical performance and can even help you live longer.

So be sure to get your ZZZZ’s!

If you struggle getting good sleep ask your doctor to check you for thyroid imbalances, blood sugar imbalances and low progesterone.  These are just a few things that can interfere with quality sleep.   

5. Assess Your Micronutrient Levels

Certain nutrient deficiencies can contribute to metabolic issues such as insulin resistance as well as be reasons for fatigue, bone loss, poor concentration, dizziness and weakness.

Assess levels for at least:

  • Vitamin D
  • Chromium
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • B12
  • Zinc
  • Calcium

While supplementation can help correct deficiencies it’s essential to eat whole foods as they contain a variety of micronutrients that you body needs plus whole foods provide essential fiber and protective substances such as antioxidants.  Be sure to “eat a rainbow” in your diet daily.  There are days where I look back and notice I didn’t have anything “green” or “colorful”. 

Supplements are meant to supplement your diet – not replace your diet.  Make it a goal to eat something fresh, green, leafy and try to eat at least 3 colors a day!  For example, sweet potato, purple cabbage and a red apple.  That’s a start!

Always speak to your doctor before starting on a supplement program as some supplements can cause harmful effects when combined with certain medication. 

THE HARD TRUTH

The truth is - after the age of 40 committing to an good wellness and strength training program is a must and it has to become a lifelong habit.  Before our 40's we can get away with just cutting out sugar and eating a bit less, maybe go do some group fitness classes and we were OK.  But our 40's and beyond is a different game.  

If you have aches, pains, borderline metabolic conditions, etc. your scenario isn't going to "get better in time" without putting in the work.  We don't "maintain" at this age without effort and a good regimen.  It sounds harsh but it's true.  

The fact is that we can age better than our parents did.  Science knows so much more now and the information is there on exactly what to do.  We are not 100% immune to disease but we certainly can set out bodies up for a damn good fighting chance and if we happen to succumb to an illiness, injury or cancer our body will be prepared for the task at hand.  

Don't think of this as work or "exercise".  Think of this as you sending a message to your body that you are "growing" vs. "disintegrating".  Send a message to your body that you are getting stronger, more flexible, more powerful and functionally younger.  

Commit to these five tips to age better because it is the only thing that works.

P.S. - don't forget your protein guide and cookbook! GRAB IT HERE

RESOURCES:

Phillips, Stuart M, et al. “Protein ‘Requirements’ beyond the RDA: Implications for Optimizing Health.” Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism = Physiologie Appliquee, Nutrition Et Metabolisme, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26960445.

Karakelides, Helen, et al. “Age, Obesity, and Sex Effects on Insulin Sensitivity and Skeletal Muscle Mitochondrial Function.” Diabetes, American Diabetes Association, Jan. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2797949/.

Nedeltcheva, Arlet V, et al. “Insufficient Sleep Undermines Dietary Efforts to Reduce Adiposity.” Annals of Internal Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 5 Oct. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20921542.

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