The Three Pillars of Health, Longevity, and Physical Fitness

Health, November 04, 2021

If all three pillars are not reinforced consistently then your physical fitness will fail. Take a moment to understand how these three factors work together to create an optimum human being.

Over the last seven years I have read, written, and put into action expansive habits that improve my fitness, my well-being, and increase my health span. Our society doesn't need more artificial methods to assist living longer - we need to put in actionable habits to live healthier, and remain fitter for longer. Having independent function deep into our lives is something that we will cherish more than any material good we can purchase. Don't wait until fragility starts to set in before you address issues. Bank expansive wellness habits NOW to draw on later. 

 

Cardiovascular Fitness

One of the most important physiological predictors of health and longevity is your cardio vascular efficiency (https://everfit.co.nz/articles/developing-our-aerobic-potential). How good is your heart at moving blood (with oxygen) to your working muscles and organs in conjunction with your lungs taking oxygen from the air and expelling Co2. This is measured with a metric called VO2 max. Effectively this is a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilise during exercise. A measure of your aerobic capacity in millilitres of oxygen used per kilogram of body weight per minute. As an endurance coach I promote aerobic exercise not just because it is the predominant system used in any event lasting for more than 2min, but it is an important piece of the physical wellness jigsaw. Developing your aerobic potential is drawing on past wisdom. The ancient Greeks were all about the cultivation of the self. The maximum function of the body was part of their "art of existing". As a society we are drowning in knowledge but staving on action. Herbert Spencer an English philosopher, and biologist who lived in the 1800's stated "The great aim of education in not knowledge but action".  

How to optimise CARDIO

1)The key to action is to start where you are, with what you have, and within your capacity. Concentrate on what you can do right now. Try not to get caught up on the vision too far ahead as it can trip you up.
2)The usual recommendation is 30min x 5 a week. The optimum is probably more like up to 60min daily. Inbetween these points is just doing a few minutes of proactive work several times a day eg take the stairs, park further away, take the bike, Motion is lotion. 
3)Find something you love, schedule it in, write your plan down, discuss it with your household and friends, and then be consistent with it. 
4)Find an exercise group or friend to meet, and schedule it in. 

5)If you can move outside in our natural world you compound the benefits. Several studies have shown the benefits of being in the ocean, breathing in forest air. The positive impact ranges from improved mental health to improved gut flora. 

 

Muscle Strength 

 

Muscle (when combined) is the largest endocrine organ in the body, this means muscle produces hormones. The loss of muscle mass is linked to many major disease states as well as loss of function. It is the key to functional, strong, healthy longevity! We need to pivot the initial conversation about being over-fat (the external issue) to being under-muscled. This can be less confronting for people. It's time the medical world focused on the solution rather than the problem - we need to be more muscle centric in our wellness education. Muscle is not just for moving us around it's our metabolic currency. It's the largest site for glucose disposal (up to 80% of glucose disposal - almost everything you eat), it's a large site for fatty acid oxidation, and the reservoir for our amino acids. Muscle is excellent at creating energy - it's the mitochondria in the muscle cells that are the literal power plants (https://everfit.co.nz/articles/mitochondria-look-after-your-life-force). When muscle is replaced with adipose (fat) tissue you have less ability to produce energy due to less mitochondria. Muscle cells contain more and better quality mitochondria than fat cells as they have to release large amounts of energy quickly. Generally there is a positive correlation between cell activity and the number of mitochondria. It doesn't take long for the body to lose what it has gained. A 2015 study in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine found that older men who did eight weeks of strength training lost about 25% of their muscle gains after they stopped training for two weeks.

"A sudden stop in activity is like slamming on the brakes and can be quite jarring to the body, even minor muscle atrophy can cause some loss of strength and movement and make activity more difficult." C.S Klein

The more muscle (to a point - too much still creates excessive weight for joints), the less overall mortality. When you contract muscle you secrete myokins which help combat many disease states. They protect our bones, brains, heart and liver. There are many myokins. There is BDNF which goes to the brain. Interleukins, including interleukin-6 (also secreted by macrophages) which is part of the immune system and up-regulated to boost immunity in response to infection.  You could be the same weight at 65 as 25 but have more fat and less muscle. As we age we acquire anabolic resistance - that means our skeletal muscle is not able to respond as well to anabolic stimuli by stimulating protein synthesis.  Our biology and hormone cycles are regulated by muscle - if you lose muscle your cortisol and insulin rises and your growth hormone, and testosterone decreases. This is matched with a natural loss of testosterone and growth hormone after we hit 40 years old. 

How to optimise muscle

1)Proper nutrition - as you age and your growth hormone, and testosterone decrease you have to be more mindful with what your consume. All evidence based diets have overlapping advice - low in saturated fat, low in trans fat, low in ultra processed food and good amounts of fibre. Naturally this leads to plant predominant eating. Have a whole food plant slant. Increasing your protein intake and distributing your protein intake over the day is important as we age.

2)Resistance Training - At least 1-2 x a week for 10-20min building up to using weights as we have to change the tissue (compound lifts e.g deadlift, squat, and kettlebell swings) and microchunks of body weight activity daily. You manage to brush your teeth twice a day for 90sec so 30-60sec of squats, push ups, lunges, planks etc should become part of your full body strength routine. 

 

Flexibility & Balance

Yoga is one of the best ways to work on full body flexibility, balance, and mind-body connectivity. For a human being to function optimally balance, poise, and an upright posture is required. I see so many clients in my practice that leave out balance and flexibility work to the eventual detriment of their physical health - even with a consistent cardio and strength routine. One of the main benefits is working on the syncing up of the breath to movement while stressing the systems balance (https://everfit.co.nz/articles/why-should-i-do-yoga). A large contributor to hospitilisations in our elderly population is falls. Hip fractures as a result of the falls can require lengthy hospital stays and create the environment for rapid de-conditioning and even death for the patient. Working on balance, flexibility and control should be part of not only athletes routines but EVERY human. If I was a benevolent dictator I would make yoga mandatory for all - it would save the country billions of health dollars every year (https://everfit.co.nz/articles/treat-lifestyle-disease-with-lifestyle-change)

 

Many people begin their journey with yoga in a class situation and then either continue with this as part of their lifestyle or move to more independent ways to practice. This can be done with small micro chunks at home, or following routines on You Tube. Many find yoga as they start to age, I would highly recommend to start your practice what now matter how young or old you are. The benefits are expansive with studies showing reduced neurodegenerative disease, reduced stress and anxiety, and the added benefit of people that particapate in yoga being more likely to give back to their community. 

 

How to optimise balance & flexibility

1)Look at starting a yoga or pilates class to learn the basics. Research the classes and instructors locally and find a beginner class that fits your schedule.
2)Sit less. Sitting for more than 3hrs a day can undo all the flexibility work you put in your routine. Look at getting a standing desk, take walking meetings, throw in simple stretches while you are waiting in line at the post office. 
3)Always tag on some form of stretching at the end of any cardio routine to make use of the optimum warm muscle pliability.
4)Stand on one leg with some deep breaths when ever you get a chance. If you want a challenge try the warrior 3 to half moon pose - one of my personal favourites ( https://www.youtube.com/shorts/pQKJp5PbBOw)


There are several studies that demonstarte the usual massive decline in mitochondria (usual is 50-70% loss of mitochondrial capacity from ages 20 to 70) DOES NOT happen in people who are life long exercises. It's a combination of resistance work (keeping the muscle fibre robust and healthy) plus the aerobic work to enhance the oxidative capacity, then balance work to decrease injury which allows more consistency.  It is NOT just one or the other. As a society we need to prolong health span and function with more muscle and not rely solely on pharmaceutical agents and excessive 'rest' home care for just life span. Maybe we need to re-brand rest homes as activity villages! 

 

Quality and optimising life should always be our health goal just just prolonging it. When we are functioning optimally we thrive - we can tap into our potential to make the world better.  We can't keep losing functionality and vitality later in life as a result of physical weakness, rigidity, lack of cardiovascular fitness. and loss of balance. What habits can you work on right now to move towards a better you?

 

 

Brad Dixon is a sports physio, coach, and wellness evangelist based at EVERFIT Physio & Coaching. His passion is promoting enhancing daily habits that nudge people towards potential and save the planet. His book ‘Holistic Human’ is available here - https://everfit.co.nz/Store/Category/Book . The power is in our daily habits! Connect with Brad at www.everfit.co.nz, Facebook, Strava, Instagram (@everfitcoach), and YOU TUBE https://youtube.com/c/EverFITcoach