Accademia del Fitness – Wellness – Antiaging / january 2012
PHYSICAL CULTURE AS THE BEST ANTI-AGEING STRATEGY
Anti-ageing medicine is mainly based on 5 cornerstones:
- physical exercise
- food integration
- stress management
- hormonal balance
We can properly say that these components have always been the essence of physical culture. Obviously, by physical culture we mean the one of the so-called “fathers of physical culture” going from the pioneer Eugene Sandow to Steve Reeves to body builders in the ‘70s. With the explosion of “body building” in the ‘80s, the health concepts of physical culture become less important and muscle development – literally “body building” – is favoured, even going to extremes at all costs. I started practising physical culture in 1975 because I was fascinated by a photo of Frank Zane, an athlete endowed with a perfectly proportioned body. With an height of 1,75 and a weight of about 85 kg, he won the title of Mr Olympia for three times in 1977-78-79. Just think that Jay Cutler won some of the recent titles of Mr Olympia with the same height but with a weight of 125 kg. Frank Zane graduated in Science in Pennsylvania in 1964 and taught Mathematics and Chemistry for 13 years. Then, he graduated in Psychology in California in 1977 and, finally, in 1990 he got a master’s diploma in experimental Psychology. His nickname being ‘the chemist’ due to his degree, Frank Zane says: “in the past years I have taken a great amount of integrators and tons of amino acids. I still do, but it was unusual at the time. This is why I was nicknamed ‘the chemist’”. According to me Frank Zane has always been the ‘guru’ of physical culture. I had already met him back at the time of his wins, and I met him again some time later. Yet, this year I wanted to go and visit him during my updating holidays in California. I wanted to meet him in his residence in San Diego, to know his opinion about Anti-ageing medicine. We had a long conversation, some hours long, and we faced all the topics connected to health and wellbeing. First of all, Frank Zane does not approve of the term Anti-ageing. He prefers to call it Age Management because you cannot avoid the ageing process but you can control it and make it slow down. According to Frank Zane, Age Management is based on four factors: exercise, mental aptitude, diet, recovery. Each one of these factors is 100% important.
At the age of 69 Frank Zane trains every other day following a specific routine: one day he trains the thrust muscles (pectoral muscles, shoulders, triceps), one day the traction muscles (dorsal, trapezius, biceps) and one day the legs. He makes around twelve sets for the big muscles and six for the small ones. He pays a lot of attention to the proper way of execution and to the feeling of ‘pumping’ rather than using heavy weights. As for his diet, he consumes about two grams of proteins and one gram of carbohydrates per kg of his body weight, with a level of about 2000 calories. On the fourth day, he consumes two grams of carbohydrates and then goes back to the cycle. Moreover, he constantly practises stretching, aerobic activities, music therapy and meditation – thanks to which he manages to sleep less hours and to spend more time studying and reading. At the end of this interview I asked Frank Zane how much time should be devoted to keeping fit. He replied: “every second of your life”.
Going back to our parallelism between physical culture and anti-ageing, we must admit that the main aspects of morphological and metabolic ageing are the loss of muscle mass, bone tissue, cartilaginous density and water. All of this is followed by a loss of elasticity in the blood vessels, a reduction in the hormones and by an increase in body fat. The loss of muscle mass, due to the ageing process, causes sarcopenia, which leads to a loss of muscle power and can therefore be disabling, favouring fall. Actually, the number of muscle fibres is the same, as is the number of blood vessels. What gets worse is the capacity of vasodilatation in blood vessels due to insulin stimulation. That is, the ageing process involves creating a sort of insulin resistance at muscle level. This works against the access of nutrients at the level of muscle cells. This process is reversible through physical exercise. In fact, physical exercise increases the blood flux at muscle level, increasing the use of nutrients. More specifically, weight training – through a direct and hormonal effect – stimulates the increase of muscle mass. Bone density decreases with age. This phenomenon is partly due to a wrong diet, for example an excess in acidifying food, and partly to a decrease in sexual hormones (osteoporosis is particularly frequent in menopausal women) but it can be fought through physical exercise, above all gravitational such as running and weight lifting. Instead, swimming and bicycle are less effective. Ageing is associated to the loss of water and to a decrease of polysaccharides in tissues. This leads to a decrease of elasticity, articular pain and arthrosis. Yet, we must bear in mind that the use of articulations keeps their functions active and the quickest way to their deterioration is lack of exercise.
With age, the blood vessels tend to lose their elasticity, their internal diameter decreases while atherosclerotic plates increase. This cause hypertension, reduces cardiovascular and muscle abilities, favours erectile dysfunction and is the first step towards cardiovascular diseases. Once again, a proper diet helps keeping good circulation. According to a study, physical exercise can have the same effect as Viagra. The use of integrators such as arginine may contribute to improve the blood flux and to prevent cardiovascular diseases. With age the majority of the hormones decrease – this has been considered by many a cause of ageing. Hormonal therapy through bioidentical hormones may bring back hormonal values to the ones of a young 20-30-year-old person. However, a proper diet, integration, stress management, physical exercise (above all with weights) may positively influence the hormonal values and any hormonal therapy will be much more effective if supported by a correct diet, integration, stress management and physical exercise.
In the end, there are three factors which determine our life quality and length: genetics, the environment and one’s lifestyle. We cannot do anything to change genetics, many of us can do little about the environment where we live. Yet, we can all do a lot about our lifestyle. Physical culture represents the perfect lifestyle to promote health and wellbeing and to slow down the ageing process.