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Your 'fitness age' mostly in your control

Mary Ganzel

Mary Ganzel

We all want to look and feel younger than our years. This is evidenced by the increase in cosmetic surgery for both sexes and fads such as collagen and Botox injections. However, there is a different way of staying young and it has nothing to do with painful injections and surgery. Improving your strength and fitness level can make you look and feel much younger than your actual age.

The trend now is to focus on ones "fitness age" and not just the number of candles on your birthday cake. Fitness age is determined and measured by a number of factors: muscle strength, body composition (muscle to fat ratio) aerobic capacity, endurance, flexibility and balance. Even Jack Lalanne, a pioneer of fitness and health, discussed his fitness age to be 29 when he was 85. What would you do to ensure at age 85 you would feel like you did at age 29? Would you make different lifestyle choices now?

Research indicates that 70 percent of your fitness age is within your control. Your genes and medical history predetermine the other 30 percent. For the people that want to look and feel decades younger you could view age 60 as the new age 40. You probably even know someone who is in their 60s and you would never know it by looking at them. They don't "look their age."

The modern world removes much of the daily physical activity experienced by our parents and grandparents. We drive to work. Sit at work. Drive home from work. Drive to a sports park to watch our kids play soccer. Sit at the sports park watching our kids play soccer then drive home only to sit in front of a TV eating dinner.

If we are a little older, we feel we paid our dues and raised our kids and are "entitled" to sit around and do nothing. The problem is unless you replace some of the sitting with proper exercise, the body deteriorates at a much faster rate and no amount of cosmetic or surgical procedures could keep up with it.

Proper exercise increases muscle tissue, bone density and helps decrease body fat levels. Not exercising does just the opposite, propelling you speedily down a path of accelerated aging. Metabolism slows (the rate your body burns fuel), energy levels plummet and the body starts to hurt from the lack of muscle supporting and protecting joints and bones.

Looking youthful requires strong muscles that support the bones and improves posture. Poor posture can result from overstretched muscles in the upper back and tight muscles in the chest. Doesn't it make sense to strengthen the upper back muscles to pull the shoulders back and stretch the muscles in the chest that pull shoulders forward? Posture droops into an aged looking rounded stance as there are no longer strong muscles to hold the body in its proper position. Body movement becomes stiff, slower and "old."

You are never too old to start an exercise program. However, the earlier you start the better you will be in the long run. You'll benefit from improved quality of life throughout the decades.

It's recommended to see a physician prior to starting a vigorous activity program for certain individuals. However, you don't have to start out vigorous. There are numerous ways to add activity into your daily life. Turn on the radio and dance to the music. Go outside and use a push mower to burn calories and strengthen your heart. Ride you bike beside your teenager as they run to get in shape for a high school sport. Walk around the sports park instead of sitting in a chair as your child practices. Wake up 15 minutes early, do wall squats and work up to regular squats without weights. You can always add weights as you get stronger. Start with one push-up (or even wall push-ups) and progress to a more intense level as you build up to it. Add more repetitions each day and you'll soon find yourself doing 20 plus full body push-ups a day, if not more.

Set specific short term goals that are realistic for you to achieve. For example, commit to get up 15 minutes early and do 15 minutes of an exercise video on Tuesday and Thursday. Commit to lifting weights for 15 minutes on Monday and Wednesday between 6 p.m.-6:15 p.m. The more realistic and specific the short term goals the better.

Your fitness age can be lower than your chronological age. Why not make the decision today to do something about it and reap the benefits? Feel better, move better, and look fabulous!

Mary Ganzel works at the Albany Area YMCA as senior program director. She has a master's degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She's been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.