Sharp short shocks to the age­ing body one of the best way to keep toned, says Peta Bee

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Fea­ture -

ANTI-AGE­ING is a sci­ence in it­self and the rules as we know them have changed. If you want to look and feel good as the years roll by then you need a rad­i­cal al­ter­na­tive the stan­dard diet and ex­er­cise ad­vice you fol­lowed in your 20s and 30s – ex­er­cise for less time, but with greater in­ten­sity, choos­ing your gym ses­sions care­fully and eat­ing with fo­cus are the new guide­lines.

There’s plenty of proof that the right diet and ex­er­cise plan can see you sail­ing rel­a­tively un­scathed into your 60s and 70s. One study at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don that tracked the ex­er­cise habits of 60some­things showed that those who ex­er­cised man­aged to achieve “healthy” age­ing, staving off se­ri­ous ill­nesses up to seven times more ef­fec­tively than seden­tary coun­ter­parts.

But how do you tackle age­ing? Here are our golden rules to get­ting in shape fast af­ter the age of 40:


As you get older, your ex­er­cise fo­cus needs to change di­rec­tion. Long run­ning or cy­cling miles and hours at the gym can be re­placed with short, sharp bursts of high­in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing (or HIIT) ac­tiv­ity with po­tent agede­fy­ing prop­er­ties. Many stud­ies have proven HIIT to be ben­e­fi­cial as we age, the most re­cent show­ing it pro­duces changes at a cel­lu­lar and ge­netic level.

Sreeku­maran Nair, a pro­fes­sor of medicine and an en­docri­nol­o­gist at the Mayo Clinic re­cruited 72 healthy but in­ac­tive men and women who were screened for a mul­ti­tude of health mark­ers such as blood sugar lev­els and ba­sic fit­ness. Re­searchers also looked at the mi­to­chon­drial health of their mus­cles be­fore ran­domly as­sign­ing each par­tic­i­pant to a ei­ther a HIIT-style in­ter­val ses­sion three times a week on a sta­tion­ary bike, ped­al­ing in­tensely for four min­utes, to rest for three, re­peat­ing the se­quence four times in to­tal, a heavy weights ses­sion sev­eral times a week or a combo work­out of half an hour steady cy­cling on the in­door bikes three to four times a week and some light weight train­ing on other days. A con­trol group did no ex­er­cise.

Af­ter 12 weeks, Nair and his team found ev­ery­one had got fit­ter and had bet­ter blood sugar con­trol. But mus­cle biop­sies re­vealed how ac­tiv­ity lev­els in cells had also changed. In the younger vol­un­teers who were aged un­der 30, in­ter­val train­ing had the big­gest pos­i­tive ef­fect, en­hanc­ing ac­tiv­ity lev­els in 274 genes com­pared with 170 in the steady ex­er­cis­ers and only 74 in the weight lifters. But ef­fects of the HIIT-style work­outs were even more pro­nounced in par­tic­i­pants aged 64 plus, im­prov­ing ac­tiv­ity in al­most 400 genes with sim­i­lar changes oc­cur­ring in only 33 genes of the weight lift­ing group and 19 of the mod­er­ate train­ers.

There was also a pro­nounced in­crease in the num­ber and health of mi­to­chon­dria in the older HIIT group, sug­gest­ing their cells re­sponded bet­ter to the train­ing ef­fects than those of more youth­ful par­tic­i­pants.

In­clude a va­ri­ety of these in your weekly work­out:

HIT squats:

If there’s an ul­ti­mate ex­er­cise for the lower body, it has to be the squat. It’s tough, but it gets re­sults in the shape of im­proved tone in your sag­ging bot­tom and legs. Stand with feet planted firmly on the ground and shoul­der width apart. Ei­ther hold your arms out in front or across your body to sta­bilise. Flex from the hips and push your weight into your heels. Stick your bot­tom out as if sit­ting on a chair. Keep low­er­ing un­til your knees are at 90 de­grees, keep­ing your back straight and head aligned. Try do­ing these for one minute repet­i­tively, per­form­ing as many as you can man­age in that time.

The 60-sec­ond work­out: This is a fan­tas­ti­cally brief work­out that was the brain­child of HIIT re­searchers at McMaster Univer­sity in Canada. It’s best per­formed on an in­door bike or row­ing ma­chine, but you can also do it out­doors run­ning or cy­cling, even walk­ing. Do it once a week.

— Warm up at a gen­tle pace for 2 min­utes

— Per­form 5 x 60 sec­ond hard bursts with 90 sec­onds re­cov­ery

— Cool down at a gen­tle pace for 60-90 sec­onds


From our mid-30s on­wards our bod­ies lose mus­cle mass as part of a nat­u­ral process called sar­cope­nia. Ini­tially, losses are a barely no­tice­able, but by 50, the an­nual loss can be as much as eight per­cent of your to­tal mus­cle mass. Both men and women are af­fected (men with their nat­u­rally greater mus­cle mass to start with – ex­pe­ri­ence a sharper de­cline) and the drop in mus­cle mass has been linked to raised blood lipid lev­els and body fat, obe­sity, heart dis­ease and the on­set of Type 2 di­a­betes. While we can’t stop the leech­ing of mus­cle, we can slow it down and weight train­ing is key. Last year, a study in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Phys­i­ol­ogy re­vealed that weight train­ing im­proved blood flow and re­duced the risk of di­a­betes in older adults, while Har­vard Univer­sity re­searchers found that men who did 20 min­utes of daily weight train­ing had less of an in­crease in the risky and agere­lated deep ab­dom­i­nal fat than men who spent the same amount of time do­ing ac­tiv­i­ties like jog­ging, swim­ming or cy­cling.


The tra­di­tional press-up con­tin­u­ally comes up trumps in stud­ies look­ing for the best all­round ex­er­cise. It works the up­per and lower body, re­quir­ing you to sup­port and lift your own body weight. For men, it’s a fan­tas­tic route to get­ting rid of moobs. There are va­ri­eties (you can move your hands fur­ther apart or closer to­gether, for ex­am­ple), but per­fect the orig­i­nal first.

Lie face down on the floor with legs to­gether and palms of your hands on the floor just be­neath the shoul­ders. Ex­tend your legs be­hind you, sup­port­ing them with the balls of your feet. Push the hands into the floor and straighten your arms to raise your­self up. En­gage your trunk mus­cles to help you achieve this. Don’t lock the el­bows com­pletely at the top of the move and try to keep your body in a straight line from head to feet.

Lower your­self back down by bend­ing the el­bows to around 45 de­grees. If it’s too hard, try do­ing the same up­per body move­ment with knees on the floor. Per­form to ex­haus­tion and then try and in­crease how many you man­age on each oc­ca­sion.


Up un­til their mid-30, women tend to carry ex­cess fat on the hips and thighs but in the years that fol­low, sig­nif­i­cant hor­monal changes take place.

Women fear ‘muf­fin top’ fat that spills over their waist­band. There’s ev­i­dence that dwin­dling lev­els of oe­stro­gen trig­ger the body to use starches and blood sug­ars less ef­fi­ciently, fur­ther in­creas­ing the lay­ing down of fat around the waist­line. Stress also plays a role — a study at Yale Univer­sity found that slen­der women with high­stress hor­mone lev­els were more likely to have muf­fin top fat.

Al­though av­er­age age at which women reach the menopause is 52, in the decade lead­ing up to it — know as the per­i­menopausal years — drop­ping lev­els of oe­stro­gen, the main fe­male hor­mone, cause weight stor­age to shift to other ar­eas like the arms and back. In­clude these ex­er­cises to keep the arms and up­per back in trim: Tri­ceps over­head ex­ten­sion: You will need a sin­gle dumb­bell (weigh­ing any­thing from 3 pounds up­wards). Hold the weight with both hands and stand up­right, shoul­ders back and feet shoul­der­width apart. Hold the weight at the top al­low­ing it to fall to­wards your back. Keep arms close to your head and with el­bows in a fixed po­si­tion for the en­tire move­ment, lower the weight be­hind your head by bend­ing the el­bows. Con­tinue un­til el­bows are bent to about 45 de­grees and then slowly raise the weight back up. Per­form 2 sets of 15, in­creas­ing the num­ber of sets (and the weight) as you get stronger. Lat­eral raise: You will need a pair of dumb­bells. Stand with feet shoul­der­width apart, hold­ing a weight with each hand. Place arms by your sides and con­tract your ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles to stay strong in the trunk. Raise the weights to the sides, lift­ing up­wards with straight arms (el­bows shouldn’t be locked, how­ever) un­til the arms are par­al­lel to the floor. Lower back down. Per­form 2 sets of 15, in­creas­ing the num­ber of sets (and the weight) as you get stronger.

Per­form to ex­haus­tion and then try and in­crease how many you man­age on each oc­ca­sion.


In a study pub­lished in the cur­rent is­sue of the Jour­nal of Car­dio­vas­cu­lar Phar­ma­col­ogy and

Ther­a­peu­tics sci­en­tists slam a man’s thick­ened waist­line as a silent killer, linked closely to meta­bolic syn­drome - a clus­ter of risk fac­tors that in­clude ab­dom­i­nal obe­sity, high triglyc­erides, high blood pres­sure, ab­nor­mal lipids, and in­sulin re­sis­tance, a pre­cur­sor to type 2 di­a­betes. “As it turns out,” wrote lead au­thor, Pro­fes­sor Charles Hen­nekens of Florida At­lantic Univer­sity. “The ‘love han­dle’ can be fa­tal.”

Of course, genes play a part in de­ter­min­ing when and where we lay down fat. But what if any­thing, can you do about these and other un­wanted side ef­fects of male age­ing?

Moobs: Ac­cu­mu­la­tion of fatty tis­sue in a man’s chest is gen­er­ally due to drop­ping lev­els of testos­terone (the male sex hor­mone) from the 40s on­wards com­bined. Weak pec­toral mus­cles make things worse, so in­clude press ups (see above) and hit the in­door row­ing ma­chine to main­tain tone in the area. Weights will also help – ex­er­cises like the re­verse fly and chest press all help main­tain tone in the chest.

Paunch: Stress hor­mones like cor­ti­sol play a role in the de­vel­op­ment of a paunch, but so does the de­cline in mus­cle mass that oc­curs as you get older. In­clude sit-ups, crunches and Rus­sian Twists as well as the squat – con­sid­ered by many per­sonal train­ers to be the sin­gle most ef­fec­tive ex­er­cise when it comes to work­ing the en­tire body. “Work­ing large mus­cles is a very quick way to re­lease a lit­tle bit of growth hor­mone into your sys­tem, get your heart and lungs work­ing and fire your me­tab­o­lism up,” says trainer Zana Mor­ris, owner of the ex­clu­sive gym The Li­brary.

“One minute of deep squats is an ex­cel­lent way for men to start their day.” Love han­dles: Keep tabs on your waist­line as you get older. It should be no larger than no big­ger than half the mea­sure­ment of your height, ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tists at Lon­don’s City Univer­sity. Or, if you pre­fer, it should mea­sure less than 40 inches (35 inches for women). If it’s within these healthy lim­its you should live to the av­er­age life ex­pectancy. But for ev­ery few inches over, you face los­ing months or even years of life.

For men, a com­bi­na­tion of de­clin­ing mus­cle mass and ris­ing stress hor­mones like cor­ti­sol sees the body grad­u­ally loses its abil­ity to use up calo­ries as ef­fec­tively as it once did re­sult­ing in the dreaded paunch. Be­cause men have more fat cells in this area, it’s also a con­ve­nient place to store ex­cess weight and love han­dles set­tle at the sides of the waist.

Try these ex­er­cises to work your waist: Rus­sian twists: Sit on the floor hold­ing a dumb­bell or weighted medicine ball out in front of you at arm’s length. With a slight back­wards lean, raise your feet just off the floor. Slowly and un­der con­trol, ro­tate to one side, still hold­ing the weight at arm’s length. Then re­turn to the cen­tre be­fore twist­ing over to the other side, then back to the cen­tre again. This is one rep­e­ti­tion. Per­form 2-3 sets of the 8 twists. Al­ter­nat­ing side crunches: Lie on your back with knees bent and ‘glued’ to­gether, feet flat on the floor. Po­si­tion your hands lightly to sup­port the head or neck - but don’t pull. Keep your chin away from the chest through­out it should be point­ing to­wards the ceil­ing. From that po­si­tion, con­tract your abs to lift you up and to­wards the right knee, keep­ing el­bows wide. As with the crunches, you shouldn’t sit up — the lift will be rel­a­tively small.

Per­form 2-3 x 15 on each side.

QUICK FIX: Many stud­ies have proven that quick bursts of high-in­ten­sity train­ing to be ben­e­fi­cial as we age. Pic­ture: iS­tock

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