Let’s Move It! Exercising for Longevity
Exercise, a divisive topic. Some people love it, there is nothing more enjoyable for them than working up a sweat and panting for breath. Others avoid it like the plague and have to have a pep talk with themselves just to pull on their running tekkies. However, the science is pretty clear on this one. Fitness and strength have a significant impact on your healthspan: the number of years someone is healthy without chronic and debilitating disease.
Now this is an interesting topic mainly because there are so many competing opinions about what types of exercise lead to longevity. So in this instance, we are going to the experts. When it comes to expertise on exercise and longevity there is only one name: Dr Peter Attia.
Peter Attia, MD, is the founder of Early Medical, a medical practice that applies the principles of Medicine 3.0 to patients with the goal of lengthening their lifespan and simultaneously improving their healthspan. He is also the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller, Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity.
Dr Attia recommends 2 areas of training: Cardiorespiratory fitness and strength training. Let's dive into these two and look at what types of exercises you need to do to maximise your healthspan
Cardiorespiratory fitness is the ability of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems to supply oxygen-rich blood to working muscles during physical activity. The type of training that Dr Attia recommends is called VO2 Max training
VO2 max training refers to a type of exercise training aimed at improving your body's maximum oxygen consumption capacity. During exercise, your muscles need oxygen to produce energy. VO2 max is a measure of how effectively your body can deliver oxygen to the working muscles. It's often considered a marker of cardiovascular fitness and endurance in athletes.
VO2 max training involves engaging in activities that challenge your cardiovascular system, such as running, cycling, or swimming, at a high intensity. The goal is to push your body to work at or near its maximum capacity, which stimulates adaptations in your cardiovascular system over time.
And the effects are immense:
Heart Health: VO2 max training strengthens the heart muscle, improves blood circulation, and lowers blood pressure. These factors contribute to a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure.
Metabolic Health: Cardiorespiratory training helps regulate blood glucose levels, improves insulin sensitivity, and promotes a healthier lipid profile. By reducing the risk of metabolic disorders, it decreases the likelihood of developing chronic diseases associated with premature death.
Mental Health: It's also not just about cardio, it helps your mind too. Regular aerobic exercise has been linked to improved mood, reduced stress levels, and enhanced cognitive function. Maintaining good mental health can positively impact overall well-being and longevity.
Here’s how Dr Attia describes the impact of VO2 Max training: “Your risk of death from having high cardiorespiratory fitness goes down by much more than your risk of death goes up from smoking or diabetes. So smoking and diabetes will double or triple your risk of death… but having very high cardiorespiratory fitness with a VO2 max that is Elite (top 2.5 percent of the population) is a five-fold reduction in all-cause mortality death from any kind”. Wow.
He recommends this simple example of VO2 Max training:
- Jump on a Stationary exercise bike.
- Peddle for four minutes at the highest output you can sustain.
- Followed by 4 minutes of recovery (rest).
- Repeat 5 times.
Strength training, also known as resistance or weight training, involves exercises that target and strengthen muscles through the use of resistance.
Dr. Peter Attia emphasizes functional strength as an important aspect of overall fitness and longevity rather than simply muscle mass building. Functional strength exercises focus on movements that mimic daily activities or improve specific physical abilities.
When you think about your healthspan you can generally imagine the kinds of things you want to maintain as you age: the ability to swing your grandchildren in the garden, play your favourite sport or move freely around your home. Some examples of these exercises include:
Grip Strength: Grip strength refers to the strength of your hands and forearms. It can be measured by tasks such as squeezing a grip dynamometer or holding onto a bar for a specific period. Improving grip strength can benefit activities like carrying heavy objects or maintaining a firm grasp.
Dead Hang Time: Dead hanging involves holding onto a bar or ledge with straight arms and hanging for as long as possible. It primarily targets the muscles of the upper body, including the forearms, back, and shoulders. Dead hangs can improve grip strength, shoulder stability, and overall upper body strength.
Chair Stand: The chair stand exercise focuses on lower body strength and functional mobility. It involves sitting on a chair and standing up repeatedly without using your hands for assistance. This exercise strengthens the leg muscles and improves balance and coordination, which are essential for activities like getting up from a seated position or climbing stairs.
This type of strength training promotes longevity and health in the following ways:
Enhanced Metabolic Health: Strength training improves insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, which can help prevent or manage conditions like type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. These conditions are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.
Metabolic Reserve: As we age, we naturally experience muscle loss, a condition called sarcopenia. Maintaining muscle mass can offset the effects of sarcopenia and preserve metabolic reserve, ensuring functional independence and a reduced risk of disability as we get older.
Functional Independence: Building and preserving muscle strength enhances physical performance, functional independence, and mobility throughout life. By maintaining muscle mass and strength, strength training can help prevent frailty and improve overall quality of life.
It's worth noting that the combination of strength training, muscle mass preservation, and cardiorespiratory fitness is generally more beneficial for longevity than focusing solely on one aspect. Incorporating a well-rounded exercise routine, along with other lifestyle factors like a balanced diet and stress management, can make for a healthier and longer life.
Lastly, an important disclaimer. Taking on new types of training to increase your healthspan requires guidance from properly trained, medical professionals. We can’t all work directly with Dr Peter Attia so please ask your personal physician for guidance before attempting any of these training programs.
Once cleared, get out there and make it happen. Remember that good health through exercise is a lifetime journey and not a destination so just take it one day at a time. Your future self will thank you for it.
This is the seventh post in our series on Longevity. Over the coming weeks, we will dive into what living a life with a longer healthspan means to you. We will look at factors in our everyday lives that impact our longevity and small (and big) changes we can incorporate into our lives to lengthen our healthspan. Look out for our emails and blog posts so you can start the journey to a life well lived.
Up Next: Eating your way to a longer life