Longevity Workouts: The Exercise Routines That Promote Wellness and Long-Life : What we know about health and the natural world changes all the time. One constant is that exercise is good for the body. Everyone knows this. But some exercises are much more effective than others, for reasons we are only slowly coming to understand.
This article is about so-called ‘longevity workouts’. Exercise that is — if done often and long enough — keeps the muscles and our immune systems younger for longer, and may even put another decade on our life expectancies. It is also about how they work, on a molecular level, to work the way they do.
It all starts with an ancient survival mechanism, one that we and all life on Earth inherited from the earliest single-celled organisms.
To Repair or Reproduce? Ancient Survival Circuits
Imagine the scene 3.5 billion years ago — the Earth is nothing but a steamy, volcanic rock filled with rock pools and salty oceans. Inside the rock pools are the first single-celled organisms and they are reproducing and evolving, much like life continues to evolve today.
It is reckoned that one of these cells evolved an adaptation that allowed it to stop reproducing when times are hard, and hunker down and enter repair mode. So whenever disaster struck — a dry period that threatened the rock pool — the one cell that figured out how to hunker down survived, while everything else died.
It is now believed we are all descended from this ancient organism, and as a result we all carry within us the two functions that are ‘reproduce’ or ‘repair’.
How The Circuit Affects Us Today
‘Reproduce’ mode is a loose word that means, when there is no immediate threat, we tend to relax; take things easy and enjoy ourselves. ‘Repair’ is the opposite. Whenever we sense danger, we take action to save ourselves from the threat.
The conveniences of modern life have largely stripped away the need to be in ‘repair’ mode often. We no longer have to hunt for food. In fact, food is so cheap and abundant that obesity is a major problem all around the world. The result is that we are almost always in ‘reproduce’ mode. The problem is, our bodies never evolved for a life of such relative leisure, and it is detrimental to us in the long run.
Longevity Genes and Why We Age
According to the most compelling theory of the day, the information theory of ageing, we age due to a loss of information over time — mostly through accumulations in DNA damage. Our bodies try to fight this loss by activating our so-called ‘longevity genes‘. Scientists have identified seven longevity genes to this day, and they work like little first-responder teams. Meaning as soon as they detect DNA damage, they rush out to repair it.
The problem is these longevity genes work best when the body ‘sounds the alarm’ for them to come out. That is, when the body is under mild stress. We put our bodies under mild stress through exercise. The problem is we don’t do enough of it, and therefore we inhibit our longevity genes from repairing broken DNA and keeping us young.
The Importance of ‘Mild Stress’ and Exercise
Not all forms of exercise place our bodies under mild stress. A leisurely walk is great, but it does not stress the body. Neither does a casual swim or a jog if it isn’t at least a bit strenuous. We put our bodies under mild stress through high-intensity training. More specifically, high-intensity interval training.
This can be as little as a 15-minute jog a day, as long as it is fitted with bursts of high intensity. But studies have shown that jogging for 30 minutes a day, five days a week can keep the body perhaps a decade younger over a lifetime.
You will know a workout is stressful when afterwards, your heart is beating out of your chest; you can’t put a sentence together without stopping for breath, you are sweating, and if your breathing patterns are deep and rapid. This is known as the “hypoxic response”. Whenever we work out in this way, our bodies are tricked into thinking there is an emergency, and so our longevity genes kick into action. We are in ‘repair mode’.
Other Types of Longevity Workouts
Other conditions put our bodies under mild stress, and when combined with HIIT exercise, they can have great results. Uncomfortably cold temperatures force the body to burn energy in order to prevent our core temperatures from dropping. This also forces the longevity genes into action. So a good way to double benefit would be to exercise in the cold. Even a brisk walk around the block on a winter’s day will kick start the longevity genes.
Another is so-called ‘amino-fasting’ while you exercise. This does not mean not having amino acids, it just means getting all of them from plant-based foods and not meat. Most meat eaters consume too many amino acids already. By eating the right plant-based foods, it is easy to get all the necessary amino acids, but the body will respond to the sharp drop of abundant amino acid intake from meat as though there was an emergency.
A Word of Warning
All of the above methods are great for inducing mild-stress. Together they are even more effective at calling out our longevity genes to repair DNA, thereby slowing the ageing process and keeping us healthier and younger.
But it is important to emphasise mild stress. Exposing yourself to the deep cold for long periods of time is not mild stress, it is very dangerous. Likewise, with amino-fasting, starvation and mal-nourishment is also very bad. It is also important not to overwork yourself through exercise, either. All you want is that mild stress feeling. It’s a temporary discomfort that fades in minutes. Chase that again and again, and expect to add years of youth and health on to your life.
Neil Wright is a writer and researcher. He has an interest in travel, science and the natural world, and has written extensively about longevity and health on his website.
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Longevity Workouts: The Exercise Routines That Promote Wellness and Long-Life
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