Contrary to popular belief, the primary health benefits of bodybuilding become most apparent after age 40. That’s the beginning of the end for many people, a time when the insults they’ve inflicted on themselves through four decades of health neglect–smoking, drinking excessive alcohol, eating poorly and not exercising–manifest themselves. At 40, unless you do something about it, your immune system goes into a gradual decline, opening the door to potentially fatal diseases, such as cancer. Since the heart is a muscle, a lack of exercise leads to cardiac flabbiness and weakness, culminating in heart failure, a heart attack or a stroke.
The body recovers from health insults far more easily when you are young; degenerative diseases don’t become apparent until you’re past 40. A proper bodybuilding lifestyle, however, can either delay or prevent many of the diseases and infirmities linked to the aging process. The quality of life you experience as you age is up to you. Exercise, typified by a balanced bodybuilding program that includes weight training, cardiovascular training and flexibility or stretching exercises, is an effective way of forestalling the effects of aging while maintaining quality of life.
Nutrition is another key to the equation. Once you hit 40, adopt an optimal nutrition program to slow the aging process and maintain muscle. Much research suggests that only one technique truly slows the aging process: restricted calorie intake, usually by about 30 percent. In various animal species, including rats, mice, dogs and fish, cutting calories leads to several beneficial changes that reflect a slowing of the aging process, starting with a vastly decreased incidence of the degenerative diseases associated with aging. Animals that eat less usually show less incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and they maintain brain function. While we don’t have scientific proof of the benefits of calorie restriction in humans, we do know that in societies in which people routinely eat far less as they age, such as on the Japanese island of Okinawa, older citizens rarely contract medical conditions common in the West. That’s why many of them reach the age of 100 or more in good health.
From a bodybuilding perspective, however, severe calorie restriction isn’t conducive to maintaining an anabolic state in muscles. Not only is it difficult to get enough protein when you severely restrict calories, but decreased intake also leads to a decrease in anabolic hormones associated with maintaining muscle, such as insulinlike growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and testosterone. Those who advocate calorie restriction ‘ la lab rats always seem to appear gaunt, with a noticeable lack of muscle.
Even so, calorie restriction fosters decreased cellular oxidation, particularly in the portion of the cell that produces energy (mitochondria); induction of ‘heat shock proteins’ that protect cells from destruction; and insulin control.
Recent research shows that a key player in the aging process is insulin. Its various functions include promoting uptake of glucose and amino acids, as well as glycogen synthesis, but insulin in excess is a potent aging hormone. The lean body that results from calorie restriction leads to lowered resting insulin levels. A consistent finding in examinations of healthy older people is lower resting insulin levels. That’s especially noteworthy because most people become insulin insensitive after age 40.
As you become insulin insensitive, your body attempts to compensate by secreting more insulin, fostering processes such as glycation, which deposits sugar into protein structures, including muscle and connective tissue. The heart is also adversely affected. The effects include stiffness and lack of mobility, as well as an increased tendency to become injured. If you inherited genes for type 2, or adult-onset, diabetes, the disease now becomes apparent too. Diabetics, especially those with poor glucose control, age about five times faster than normal, again because of glycation.
The good news is that exercise and good nutrition can prevent degeneration. Weight training is especially effective against diabetes because it encourages the activity of cellular glucose transporters that work with insulin in promoting glucose uptake into cells.
While nutrition and supplementation plans must be individualized based on genetics, body composition, medical problems and so on, certain principles apply equally to most people over age 40. What follows is the supplement plan that I use. For some 40 years I’ve served as my own guinea pig, trying every type of bodybuilding and health supplement at one time or another. Some I continue to use; others I’ve discarded as either ineffective or too expensive.
My rationale for choosing these supplements is grounded in scientific research you may find valuable if you’re over 40 or contemplating supplement use. Unless absolutely necessary, I don’t list commercial names because this isn’t an advertisement. I’m all about telling the truth.