Age Is Just A Number
During this global pandemic, we have all witnessed the overwhelming tragedy and death across our country. Reaching the grim milestone of over 120,000 deaths in the US has been a very hard pill to swallow for all of us that feel like we are in the business of helping people become the healthiest version of themselves and fight diseases like this.
We at Epic Fitness are literally on the front lines of being able to help make lasting change for people and their health right now.
But we aren’t doing very well her in America, and the numbers are showing it. A disproportionate number of Americans are losing their battle to this virus that are over the age of 60 and also have co-morbidities (the presence of two or more chronic diseases or conditions). High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, Heart Disease – while most of these conditions are preventable with diet and exercise intervention, we are at a place right now where the average American is not getting enough exercise and are not eating food that is nutritious and nourishing for the body.
The latest statistics show that over 40% of Americans over the age of 51 are considered overweight or obese. This is a staggering number that we all need to take seriously right now.
We have been getting a lot of recommendations lately with the Coronavirus pandemic based on our age range. Some experts are saying that if we merely fall into a certain age range, then we should consider changing our lives and lifestyles for the foreseeable future. All that this takes into consideration is ONE thing – the year you were born – that’s it! I have to disagree with this assessment. I honestly feel that our chronological age alone isn’t the only marker on how this virus is affecting us – I feel our physiological age (also called “biological age”) has 100% to do with how this virus is affecting us, and whether or not you are at a higher risk of getting sick, and even worse, dying from this virus.
(Can you guess how many Epic Rockstars in this photo are over the age of 50??)
First, let us clearly define what “Physiological Age” is. Physiological age can be broken down into three categories:
- Physical Health
- Emotional Health
- Mental Health
Before we break down these 3 categories, I want to share some of the research on physiological aging (this will get a little “sciency” but it’s important to understand as well).
How Physiological Age is Determined
Research suggests that telomeres and DNA methylation play big parts in the aging process. Telomeres are the nucleotides on the ends of chromosomes. They keep the ends of chromosomes from deteriorating and fusing with a nearby chromosome. An easier way to think of it is like this – at each end of a chromosome is a telomere which you could compare to the plastic tips at the end of a shoelace. Telomeres are important because they prevent chromosomes from unraveling. Essentially, telomeres dictate how quickly cells age and die.
Scientists have discovered that the higher a person’s chronological age, the shorter their telomeres. One study found that people with shorter telomeres were more likely to have an early death or develop a disease or neurodegenerative disorder.  But Another study suggests that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can actually reverse aging by lengthening telomeres! This is good news for us as health and fitness professionals to continue to preach and teach living healthy lifestyles.
Three Ways to Improve Your Physiological Age
- Physical Health – Everything from exercise, nutrition and sleep habits play a critical role in your overall physical health. If you have gone in for a routine physical, the question of “How often do you exercise?” comes up now because doctors are very aware of how this one factor can positively affect your life.
We work with many clients in their 60’s and even 70’s, and most new members can never guess their age, or when they find out how old the person “really is” they are amazed! We know the reason is because of how well these individuals take care of their bodies physically day in and day out. Physical health is made up of daily habits that take time and need to be mastered.
- Emotional Health – Emotional healthis your ability to accept and manage feelings through challenge and change. Someone who is emotionally healthy can allow their emotions to be digestible. The mundane hassles of daily life offers opportunities to practice positive responses, rather than negative reactions, to allow emotional health to flourish.
Think of the last time something didn’t happen the way you would have liked it to in your life. How did you respond? Did you react negatively, allowing that stress response to take over your entire day? Could you instead merely start to practice a better response when these things invariably come up? (Try this 5 minute meditation practice here!) Think of what happens to your body every time it has a stress response. Your body gets flooded with cortisol, a stress hormone that limits the body’s ability to recover and heal quickly. This “fight or flight” response should occur more rarely in our lives, and when we really need it – like when we are truly in danger and need to “fight or flight.”
- Mental Health – The Journal of World Psychiatry has given a great definition for mental health here:
“Mental health is a dynamic state of internal equilibrium which enables individuals to use their abilities in harmony with universal values of society. Basic cognitive and social skills; ability to recognize, express and modulate one’s own emotions, as well as empathize with others; flexibility and ability to cope with adverse life events and function in social roles; and harmonious relationship between body and mind represent important components of mental health which contribute, to varying degrees, to the state of internal equilibrium.” 
This definition was given back in 2015 and couldn’t be truer for the world that we live in today. What is meant in the definition by the expression “universal values” is deemed necessary, in the light of the misleading use of this expression in certain political and social circumstances. The values we are referring to are respect and care for oneself and other living beings; recognition of connectedness between people; respect for the environment; respect for one’s own and others’ freedom.
Here is the truth – people in good mental health are still often sad, unwell, angry or unhappy – and this is all part of a fully lived life for a human being. But in spite of this, mental health has been conceived as a purely positive affect, marked by feelings of mainly happiness. Once we accept that negative emotions are normal in life, and that these emotions actually contribute positively to our mental health, we will be able to have a more positive relationship with ourselves and with those around us.
Like the quote on mental health states above – what we are truly looking for is a state of “internal equilibrium.” Finding a state of internal equilibrium in our physical, emotional and mental health is what can contribute most to decreasing our physiological age. Doing “little and often over the long haul” is what will always prepare us for these moments of challenge in our lives.
The Good News!
We are all dealing with this “new normal” together. We also have many ways to take our health into our own hands and quite literally change our own physiology to become stronger, more resilient and healthier. I truly feel this pandemic will make a massive change in the way we all as humans look at our health and wellness. It will get us to realize we DO have a say in how we feel, look and act. WE ARE IN CHARGE of these things, and all we have to do now is make the decision that we are going to make a change for the better.
I challenge you to look at one of these areas of your life to start – physical, emotional and mental – and choose one thing you will start with TODAY to make a 1% improvement in that area. For example, if you want to make a 1% improvement on your physical health maybe that means you will walk 3 nights a week, after dinner, around the block.
Remember, we are all in this together. Don’t let your (chronological) age be a factor that gets in the way of how you can and will live your life! After all, age is just a number.
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- Shammas MA.Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011;14(1):28-34. doi:10.1097/MCO.0b013e32834121b1
- Anitha A, Thanseem I, Vasu MM, Viswambharan V, Poovathinal SA.Telomeres in neurological disorders. Adv Clin Chem. 2019;90:81-132. doi:10.1016/bs.acc.2019.01.003
- World Psychiatry. 2015 Jun; 14(2): 231–233.Published online 2015 Jun 4. doi: 1002/wps.20231