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By: Jerry Brainium
People are attracted to weight training for various reasons. Some lift weights to assist them in other sports; for example, to increase muscular strength and prevent injuries. Others lift for competitive reasons, such as Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting or bodybuilding. Still others just want to look good, trim and muscular throughout their lives. While sensible bodybuilding exercise offers significant advantages for anyone, regardless of goal, it's particularly beneficial for those over age 40.
That relates to the use-it-or-lose-it principle, which simply states that whatever the body doesn't use recedes with time. The most evident example is the aging process. Aging is inevitable, but the rate at which you age is controllable to a large extent. Degenerative diseases associated with aging, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, aren't inevitable. They can largely be controlled by avoiding known risk factors while staying healthy through regular exercise and proper nutrition. In short, whether you end up decrepit or in good physical condition is in your hands.
Although scientists give us many definitions of aging, perhaps the most succinct is that offered by Richard A. Miller, a researcher of the aging process at the University of Michigan. Miller says that aging 'is the process that converts fit adults into frailer adults with a progressively increased risk of illness, injury and death.' While aging cannot be eliminated (except for the unacceptable alternative of dying young), emerging therapies offer the promise of staying young as long as possible.
The actual cause of aging is still a subject of debate among gerontologists, or scientists who study the aging process. It's far more complex than most people imagine and involves both lifestyle and genetic factors. The influence of genetics is exemplified by some people who live to 100 or beyond. Many of them come from families whose members are long-lived. A classic example is Jeanne Calmet, a French woman who was born on February 21, 1875, and died on August 4, 1997. Both of her parents lived into their 90s, although her own children died relatively young. Most aging experts say that genetics accounts for only 30 percent of longevity.
Currently, the only scientifically plausible method of slowing the aging process involves calorie restriction'but that alone won't do it, as any observation of many third-world nations clearly shows. People in such poor countries eat few calories but have shorter-than-average lifespans due to such factors as disease and malnutrition. To be effective, low-calorie diets must be accompanied by optimal nutrition, or, as the foremost advocate of calorie restriction, Roy Walford, M.D., called it, CRON (caloric restriction with optimal nutrition).
As to how cutting calories works to delay the aging process, no one seems certain. One prevalent theory is that it slows every major process in the body, including those that produce free radicals. Free radicals are products of oxygen metabolism that wreak havoc in the body by attacking vital structures such as nucleic acids and cellular membranes.
In fact, most theories of why we age involve some aspect of out-of-control free-radical activity. It's implicated in the causes of not just aging but also every other degenerative disease, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Anything that helps control those metabolic marauders known as free radicals should help slow the aging process.
The body has built-in systems to help defuse rampant free-radical activity. They consist of various enzyme systems, such as superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. Significantly, as is the case with many other enzymes in the body, those protective enzymes are activated by nutrients. Superoxide dismutase needs the trace minerals zinc and manganese to work properly. Manganese activates the superoxide dismutase found in the mitochondria portion of cells, where fat is burned and energy (as ATP) is synthesized.
The mitochondria, which depend on oxygen to produce ATP and burn fat, are also the site of the greatest release of free radicals. An emerging theory of aging is that damage to mitochondrial function due to excess free radicals eventually leads to the destruction of cellular mitochondria. Since the mitochondria are the sources of cellular energy, without them cells don't have the energy to engage in processes essential to their existence, such as repair of nucleic acids needed for cellular replication. DNA, a vital cellular nucleic acid, is itself subject to damage by free radicals, an effect that can lead to cellular mutation and cancer.
The prevailing theory about the free-radical-induced aging process, which was originally formulated in 1956 by Denham Harmen, is that the body's natural inherent antioxidant protection is reduced with age, leaving a person subject to oxidative damage. Even exercise, which involves increased use of oxygen, initially increases free-radical production. Some studies show that the body deals with that by also increasing the activity of its built-in antioxidant systems, such as the superoxide dismutase system. Other studies show that the body's built-in antioxidant protection is overcome by the extent of oxygen use during exercise.
From a practical point of view, you have two likely methods of extending youth and delaying the aging process. One involves calorie restriction; the other involves using antioxidant food supplements, such as various vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, to bolster existing antioxidant systems in the body. The problem is that many of the effects of calorie restriction aren't conducive to building muscle. Does that mean you have to make a choice between looking good and dying relatively young or looking scrawny and living longer?
Is Calorie Restriction the Answer?
The origin of caloric-restriction theory, or CR, began in 1935, when a researcher named Clive McKay from Cornell University found that lab rats deprived of calories lived up to a third longer than other lab rats that were allowed to eat as much as they wanted. Roy Walford, a pathologist at UCLA, extended the CR research beginning in 1972 and eventually showed that CR slowed aging in a wide variety of species, from rats to fish, worms and flies, among others. The typical reduction in such studies involved subjects getting 30 to 60 percent fewer calories than they were eating before. While the results with those varied species appeared to point to a definite beneficial effect of CR, the question remained as to whether it offered similar life-extending benefits to humans. Since a human study wasn't possible, the next best thing was to use mankind's closest relative, the monkey. The studies began in 1987 and 1989 at the National Institute of Aging and the University of Wisconsin.
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