Can we stop the clock?
While it is true that you can’t stop the aging process entirely, recent studies demonstrate the profound effects of routine exercise (both resistance training and aerobic) on the human body. Here are four important reasons to
1. Go Heavy or Go Home: Muscle Quality
It is a common misconception that as you age, you gradually lose muscle mass and strength; which if true, means we are all destined to have nurses bathe and feed us.
But a study published in The Physician and Sportsmedicine (2011) by Andrew Wroblewski et. al., examines 40 masters athletes and concludes what we Crossfitters commonly observe in the box: age does not mean loss of muscle – retiring to the rocking chair does.
While Crossfit is not a Fountain of Eternal Youth, as the years pass, according to Wroblewski, muscle mass and strength can be maintained with chronic training.
The squats and deadlifts we do in Crossfit certainly help us build and keep quality muscle, but lifting alone isn’t a comprehensive anti-aging formula: conditioning is an essential piece of the physiological puzzle.
2. Keep the Blood Flowing: Vascular Health
Your arteries are the conduits through which the blood flows. When these arteries stiffen, the heart must work harder to pump the blood through, which over time, can cause damage to the heart. Until recently, it was widely accepted that arterial stiffness is a natural result of biological aging.
However, it might be beneficial to get the blood pumping.
In a study called “Vascular Health in the Aging Athlete,” Allison E. DeVan and Douglas R. Seals show that endurance athletes such as runners, rowers, swimmers and cyclists demonstrate lower elastic artery stiffness than their untrained peers. So despite being in the same age group, masters endurance athletes had healthier arteries than the sedentary group.
Interestingly, athletes who participated solely in resistance training showed greater elastic artery stiffness than the endurance athletes, meaning the bodybuilders had unhealthier arteries than the endurance athletes.
However, there is hope for those who want to bulk up. The results from the masters rowers who were studied indicate that any negative vascular effects from strength training could be offset by the addition of conditioning. So, when a weightlifter adds running to the menu (or any other aerobic exercise), the arteries become healthier.
3. Shades of Gray and White: Brain Function
Stereotypes abound when you turn forty: you search everywhere only to discover your trifocals are on your head; or you walk into a room with no idea why you’re standing there.
While it has been shown that brain volume reduces with age, a study done by Benjamin Y. Tseng, Ph.D et. al. suggests that physical activity can help prevent brain volume loss and improve cognitive function. Not only did the MRIs of masters athletes show greater concentrations of gray matter, which affects muscle control and memory (among other things), and white matter (which carries out the commands), but the athletes also surpassed their sedentary colleagues in cognitive testing, which leads researchers to believe routine exercise positively impacts brain function.
4. Let’s Talk About Sex: Reduce Cortisol and Increase Testosterone
Sorry to break it to you, Junior, but Masters have sex too.
But there’s more to the picture than simple mechanics: factors such as stress or a decrease of hormones can affect the sex drive. When a body is stressed, it produces cortisol, which can inhibit the production of testosterone, which is essential for the libido.
One might think that with great vascular health, the endurance athlete would have plenty of fuel for sexual desire. However, studies show that endurance sports, such as marathon running, create a stress-reaction wherein the body produces cortisol, which can block the hormones that bolster the sex drive.
Strength training, however, aids the production of testosterone.
Thus, Crossfit can help a person reduce stress (and thereby cortisol); and it can shape your body into something sexy by building muscle, which in turn helps naturally produce the hormones that make you feel sexy.
What’s not to love about Crossfit?
Age is a Cage, our Coach Says
While declining Vo2 max and reduction in lactate threshold as an athlete ages can have an impact on performance, masters athletes tend to have better muscle quality, a healthier cardiovascular system, higher cognitive function and more balanced hormones than the sedentary crowd, which translates into a better quality of life.
Overall, studies show a combination of resistance and endurance training is best for the human body; and Crossfit strikes the perfect balance, which can help prevent a slew of diseases and disorders.
But moreover, Crossfit can render age virtually irrelevant because in the box, the only numbers that count are your reps.