Fitness for a Lifetime: Don’t Forget to Turn YOUR Clock Back!

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I’m younger than I was 15 years ago. No doubt about it. I’m faster, stronger, leaner, happier, healthier, more athletic. I don’t LOOK any younger, in fact, when I get really lazy and let my beard grow out I get that Mel Gibson look (“Apocalypto” Mel Gibson, not “Year of Living Dangerously” Mel Gibson when he was young and a stud and not completely out of his mind). I get grayer by the minute, undergoing a post-Lewinsky-Clinton-like transformation. I’m not going to dye my hair, I’m not in favor of that at all. It doesn’t look right, just go gray and be a man about it, brother.

I am not in possession of a time machine, nor am I undergoing a Benjamin Button phenomenon. No spells have been cast. I am not a vampire (not good looking enough, can’t stay up late enough). I did not say the exact magic words at the exact magic moment while standing at the exact magic place that would enable me to switch bodies with Zac Efron (my wife is very bitter about this fact). My driver’s license says I’m older. My hairline and hair color confirm it. My chronology is not LITERALLY moving in reverse, yet I stand here confident in my knowledge that I’m a much younger man than I was in 1997. Of course, if you knew me in 1997, you’d believe my greater accomplishment to be simply LIVING to 2012.

This is my favorite time of the year. The heat begins to diminish, the days shorten, the air smells differently, college football is in full swing. I get excited about being able to put on long sleeve shirts or maybe even a sweater. I wear slippers around the house and drink hot tea (wait a minute, maybe I have actually gotten older….no, I just ACT old). This is the time of year when it changes from summer in Los Angeles to something else for about 9 days, and I love it. This is when we turn back the clocks and get an extra hour of sleep. We turn back the clocks. Turn back time. Don’t you wish we could actually do that?

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In thinking about turning back the clock I’ve been thinking about the notion of anti-aging. Does it really exist, and is it really possible? In considering how my life has changed since 1997 I can very easily say that I’m a younger, healthier and happier man in my 40’s than I was at 27, but that was more a lifestyle issue than a DNA-transformation issue. In the fifteen years since 1997 I have quit smoking, quit drinking, gotten (and remained) happily married, opened two fitness training centers, adopted four dogs (rest in peace, Abby and Lulu), begun training in earnest, cleaned up my eating and all but given up meat. I am a significantly better man now than I was then. But does “anti-aging” really exist?

Anti-aging, by definition, is the study of slowing down or reversing the processes of aging to extend both the maximum and average lifespan. Okay, I’m down with the slowing down and maximizing lifespan part and believe that to be totally possible, but I think the concept of reversing the aging process on a genetic or cellular level is a stretch. I haven’t reversed the aging process, I have just reversed behaviors that were leading to a premature disintegration of my body and mind. Take, for example, the facts that:

So, this was my plan for improving and extending my life, though I rolled it out in stages. What should your plan be if you want to turn back the clock? Well, that’s up to you, but here’s what I recommend:

It comes from the inside-out, not outside-in

Forget about relying on creams, potions, pills, vitamins or surgeries. That kind of outside-in approach won’t undo the damage done from a life spent rotting from the inside-out. 

  • Vitamin supplements may not even be good for you!
  • Potions and creams won’t provide the magical solution you’re looking for. (HOWEVER: I use Origins Plantscriptions Anti-Aging Serum and it’s BOMB! For one thing, it’s cruelty-free, and as a guy who adopted a former laboratory testing beagle, that’s a must. I can’t say whether it’s done anything for wrinkles, but I have rosacea and haven’t had a single symptom since I started using it. And it makes my face soft as a baby’s butt. But don’t tell the guys or I may get my man-card pulled.)
  • Surgery, besides being beyond affordability for most people, is painful, takes a long time to heal, and often looks terrible. Besides, even if you get the most exquisite surgery and then go back to smoking, eating poorly, not exercising, etc., your new face will fall apart again. 
Look, if all of these things worked, anti-aging would be a widely practiced discipline and everyone would look nineteen years old. They don’t work. The best way to “anti-age” is to not behave in a way that prematurely ages you in the first place, or, at the least, to change these behaviors to ones that allow your body to regenerate.

It all starts with eating

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“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates

There’s a saying in reference to computer data entry; garbage in, garbage out. This applies to eating, too. For some reason nutrition has become the most baffling issue in modern health. It’s not baffling at all, we’ve just been fed (literally and figuratively) a load of bullsh** for a long time. If you put bad (i.e., highly processed & packaged foods, animal products, sugar) food in, you’re going to suck. Simple.

Here’s the skinny when it comes to food:

  • Eat a primarily plant-based diet. In case you’re confused by the term plant-based this means things that originated in the earth or on the branch. Natural, unprocessed, organic fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and grains should comprise the lion’s share (pun) of your eating. A plant-based diet can actually undo harm.
  • Minimize or eliminate animal products from your diet; this means meat of any kind and dairy. Where an animal-product based diet goes, so goes disease.
  • Minimize sugar intake which can lead to weight gain and/or obesity, and the health issues that accompany them.
  • Minimize booze. Okay, we’ve all heard about the wonders of resveratrol that come from the wine grape and how a drink a day can stave off some health problems, but pull yourself together! This does not give you free reign to start butt-chugging (yes, it’s a real thing; no, you don’t want to know) Pinot Grigio. And a “glass” of wine is 5 ounces, which is a thimble-full. Don’t start putting a stem on the goldfish bowl and calling it a “glass.” 

Then comes the exercise

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Human beings are designed to be in motion, not to be lying like a smoldering dung heap on the couch all day, which is why recent studies show that extended periods of inactivity will actually KILL YOU. In order to be healthy, look good and ward off disease you need to exercise rigorously, consistently and for a sustained period of time. The sustained period of time to which I refer is roughly…a lifetime. Get over it, that’s the way it is.

It doesn’t matter if you hire a personal trainer (though it might not be a bad idea), do group fitness, run, hike, take Yoga or CrossFit classes or swim, you just have to do it and do it often! If you want to get an idea of how much exercise is enough, read this recent post.

Stop smoking

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I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this one. I used to smoke. I was an idiot. I no longer smoke, and if I’m still an idiot it’s for new and innovative reasons. If you still smoke, you’re a fool.

Sleep Tight

My sleep sucks. It’s an ongoing awful thing, but I’m trying to improve it. Nothing takes it out of you like sleep deprivation. You know how sluggish and dis-empowered you feel when you miss out on sleep? Well, that’s not all that’s happening. Lack of proper sleep can increase blood pressure, negatively effect your marriage (Guys, seriously, you snore like a buzzsaw. Go get a sleep study, for God’s sake, and let your wife SLEEP!), causes depression, makes you cranky and forgetful, hinders your athletic ability, undermines job performance, and increases risk of weight gain and cancer.

You don’t have to be doomed by bad sleep, you just have to develop good sleeping habits. Not drinking caffeine in the evening or exercising close to bedtime, establishing a consistent schedule and other good habits can help you get the necessary sleep your body and mind crave.

De-stress Yourself

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Put away your iPhone. Seriously, it’s a disease. Oh, I have it, too, the inability to stop looking at my damn phone, check emails, etc.. We’re already stressed out enough about the economy, our kids, family issues, who’s going to be voted off of “Dancing With the Stars,” why USC can’t beat teams like Stanford and Arizona for the love of God! All kinds of stresses in life result in fists clenched, breathing labored and hearts racing, but we need to learn to chill out.

Continual stress can lead to heart disease, sleep problems, digestive issues, depression, obesity, memory impairment, skin issues, lost hair, freaking out and screaming at other people through your windshield.

Get a handle on it by exercising, eating properly, getting plenty of sleep and developing healthy social outlets. Learning meditation is helpful, Yoga, too. Drinking won’t help, trust me. 

Find a way to enjoy life. I know that’s trite and simplistic, but it’s true. We all deserve to enjoy our lives.

Can you actually turn back the hands of time?

I have my doubts about whether we can, on a genetic, cellular level, reverse the ravages of time. But I can tell you from my own personal story that changing my behavior reduced my weight, my blood pressure, my cholesterol, improved my mood, my physical ability, my work life, my married life. 

I’m a happier man at 42 than I was at 27.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, medical correspondent for CNN, believes in turning back the clock, too. In a recent article in Prevention Magazine, he discusses how a primarily plant-based diet, meditation, frequent exercise, proper sleep, limiting sugar and other healthy behaviors have led him to a place in his life where he believes he has LITERALLY reversed aging:

“One way to measure biological age is to look at your telomeres – the little strands of genetic material at the end of chromosomes. They get shorter as you grow older. But we’ve recently learned that can shorten at a slower rate or even stop shortening. I had my telomeres measured for a story I was working on 7 years ago, and I had them measured again last year. My telomeres were actually longer the second time.”

Good for you, Dr. Gupta! I truly want to believe that’s possible, and I’m doing everything I can to get the same result. I may have been disrespectful of my health when I was younger, but I cherish it now. I do not want to go gentle into that good night. So, fire up the telomere-measuring machine, whatever the hell it is, I want to get a reading. Maybe if I work hard enough I won’t need to color my beard.

 

Jonathan Aluzas is the owner of Arena Fitness, a personal training, semi private training and group fitness facility with locations in Encino and Northridge.