A little while back I made the ridiculous claim that exercise can make you younger. Now, not being a complete fool I knew I couldn’t make such an outrageous claim without something to back it up. So I jabbered on about telomeres and aging, and sang the praises of high intensity interval training as a method to not just slow aging, or even to stop aging, but to actually reverse aging.
But really, what does it all mean?
I beat myself up pretty good over the years. My parents were firm believers in the ancient Greek idea of “A strong mind in a strong body” so as kids we were signed up for a wide variety of sports and I was active right from the get go. Swimming, skiing, tennis, hockey, I can’t even remember it all now, but it did instill in me a love of physical activity.
That had its good and its bad. I got heavily into the martial arts. I ran a lot, perhaps a few miles too many. I played hockey, I climbed. I was fit, and healthy, and strong, and young. And then I got an amazing opportunity to move to Colorado. If you’ve never been, Colorado is a great place to live if you like to play outdoors.
Then I discovered the downside of my lifestlye. Shortly after I moved, a group of us decided to hike up a “fourteener,” a mountain whose peak exceeded 14000’ elevation. The hike up wasn’t bad, but the hike down was sweet holy hell on my knees. I got back to my apartment, downed a bunch of Advil, and lay down for a day.
Then I returned to Ontario for the Labour Day weekend and found myself mysteriously grouchy after a couple of days. It took me a bit to figure out why, and the reason was I ached. My back, my hip, my knees, they all ached. The humidity of the swamp that is Southwestern Ontario was playing holy hell with my joints and when I returned to the high and dry of Denver the pains just…went away.
There I was, only 32 years old, and my body had already begun to break down. At the time, I didn’t know what to do, only that I was fortunate to be in the drier air up in the mountains. If someone ever tells you, “Yes, but it’s a dry heat/cold,” trust me, it’s true. Living in Colorado I could continue to pursue my active lifestyle.
Sadly, all good things must end, and the company closed the Denver office. I had to return.
Happily, good fortune intervened. Between our time in Colorado and resuming our lives in Ontario my wife and I spent some time overseas and during our time in Beijing discovered hot yoga and Pilates. Upon our return home we settled into career and family, and made yoga the cornerstone of our exercise regimes.
But what does this have to do with aging, you ask? Follow along.
A couple of years ago we took the family on vacation (to the Dominican, if you’re interested) to celebrate a couple of big birthdays. My oldest was turning 10, and I was turning 50. Anyway, on my birthday we were all playing in the pool and a fellow vacationer struck up a conversation. During said conversation, it being my birthday came up.
“Really, Happy Birthday, how old is you?”
“50? No, you 40.”
“No, really, I’m 50 today.”
Pause. “No, you only 40.”
Now, a (very) drunk Russian passing out compliments while on vacation is more of a funny story than something to be taken seriously. However, when I got back to yoga a week later, one of the other old farts at the club asked why I’d been away.
“My son and I had big birthdays to celebrate, so we were in the Dominican.”
“Oh, you’re 40 now, congratulations.”
“40? Thanks, you’re my new favourite person.”
“What do you mean?”
“You said I’m 40, thanks.”
“Well, you are 40, aren’t you?”
“Umm, no, I just turned 50.”
“50? Really? You don’t look 50.”
Ever since I got seriously into yoga, and let’s be honest, seriously into Bikram yoga, I’ve had a number of people guess my age anywhere from 5 to 10 years low. I’d noticed that my joints ached less, but I just assumed it was because I’d quit running. I’d seen the wrinkles in my face were less prominent, but I figured it was because I was destressing with the yoga.
These things are true, but what I never expected was the Mayo clinic to find that HIIT training makes you genetically younger, and that the older you are, the greater the benefits you receive from the HIIT training.
I’ve said it before; do yoga, look good, feel better but I’ve got to change it.
Do yoga, look good, feel better, get younger.