Bending the (Aging) Curve

“Bending the curve”, a term coined by exercise physiologist Joseph Signorile PhD., is also the perfect analogy when considering one’s overall health through the golden years.

It, hopefully, is not the first time you have head of the phrase; but what does it actually mean and what could it have to do with aging? While it’s usually used in conversation to refer to healthcare spending, “bending the curve”, a term coined by exercise physiologist Joseph Signorile PhD., is also the perfect analogy when considering one’s overall health through the golden years. What behavioral or lifestyle modifications can we make to ensure that we are able to successfully function as older adults?  

It is an obligation that we know far too well: The Annual Physical. In or around 45 minutes, our physician evaluates our current state of wellness and guides us towards better health with a couple guidelines. More often than not, those guidelines sound something like this: “It’s important to make sure you’re eating right, stay away from high- fat, high- sugar foods and try to incorporate more exercise into your daily routine. Try walking for 30 minutes every day.”  These are things that we all know, things that our mothers have been telling us for years (Thanks Mom!). At a certain point however. Usually around your 40s, you’re likely to notice that your body just doesn’t feel like it used to. So you remember what your doctor told you and decide take the initiative and begin to put a little more thought into your daily nutrition and wake up just a little earlier to enjoy a nice brisk walk. What you don’t know is: the very same 30 minutes of walking over-prescribed by all of our physicians may not actually be the best way to improve our health or an effective way to work on bending that aging curve.

Perhaps we might all agree that one of, if not the most important aspects of our daily lives is our independence. Without it, we are forced to depend on those around us to complete even the most menial of tasks- think bathing, dressing or even grocery shopping. For the elderly, this is perhaps one of the ultimate fears of their daily lives as it is well known that physiological functions often rapidly decline with age.

Advances in science and technology have lead exercise physiologists around the globe to measure the ineffectiveness of walking when in achieving drastic improvements for both the body and overall wellness. If measureable changes are to be made [in body composition and overall functioning] exercise bouts must be vigorous and should focus on improving not only cardiovascular capacity, but also range of motion, strength and power, and bone density. These five components are key in reducing the decline in physiological capacities as we age. As we get older, our skeletal muscles naturally begin to degenerate causing our functioning to decline, this is known as sarcopenia. In one peer-reviewed article, Dr. Simon Melov and his associates conducted a study on 51 healthy adults which compared the effect that resistance exercise training would have on aging and skeletal muscle. In the study, the authors give evidence to support that bi-weekly, vigorous resistance training reversed the aging of skeletal muscle over a six month period. It was found that resistance exercise training promotes increased muscle strength, function and mass in older adults; all of which are essential in maintaining independence.

It is important to remember that you should fist speak with your doctor before making any lifestyle changes; it is equally important to be well informed about the decisions you make with your health care provider. The next time you find yourself with your physician, take some time to discuss steps that you can take towards bending that aging curve.

Melov S, Tarnopolsky MA, Beckman K, Felkey K, Hubbard A (2007) Resistance Exercise Reverses Aging in Human Skeletal Muscle. PLoS ONE 2(5): e465. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000465

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