By Coach Tim
People have been searching for the mythical Fountain of Youth for centuries. It showed up first in the writings of Herodotus in the 5th century BC. It made regular appearances in both fiction and non-fiction literature through the ages. In the 16th century AD, Ponce de Leon reportedly scoured the Caribbean and the Florida coast for the legendary waters of Bimini, which allegedly restored the youth of anyone who drank or bathed in it. Fast forward to the present and people are still searching. While we may have given up on finding a literal fountain, we still hold out hope for a magic bullet. People have turned to surgery, herbal supplements, hormones, exotic fruit and vegetable tonics, fad diets, and some truly bizarre exercise equipment in an effort to maintain their youth and ward off the effects of aging (Exhibit A: The Shake Weight). As I sit here in my mid-forties, I get it. Youth is easy to take for granted when you have it and seems so fleeting when you don’t. I mean, in my mind I’m not a day over 25. Those who know me best would probably tell you that I’m really an overgrown child when I’m not pretending to be an adult. Yet I look around at people my age and I’m starting to see some of them struggle with their health.
But, there’s good news. A number of recent studies have examined the effects of aging at a cellular level and they’ve conclusively shown that there can be a significant disparity between your chronological age and your biological age. In other words, someone who is in their fifties could have the cellular markers of someone half their age. These studies have focused on two primary indicators, mitochondrial function and the length and condition of the telomeres on our DNA. You might recall from 9th grade Biology that mitochondria are the “powerhouse” of our cells and provide 90% of the energy we need to sustain life and organ function. Telomeres are the caps on the end of our chromosomes. In a way, they are like the little piece of plastic on the tips of your shoelaces. They keep the chromosome from fraying and deteriorating over time. As our cells divide, telomeres gradually get shorter until eventually they can no longer prevent deterioration, exposing us to a variety of ailments including cancer, stroke and cardiovascular disease.
Most importantly, these studies have clearly shown that exercise is the biggest common denominator in those people whose biological age is younger than their chronological age. Specifically, people who participate in high intensity interval training (HIIT) and lift weights on a regular basis have significantly better mitochondrial function and longer telomeres than people of the same age who are sedentary. So there it is… scientists have further validated what we in the CrossFit community already knew. This stuff WORKS. Not only do we feel better, look better and have more energy, but behind the scenes our cells are quietly humming along, waiting for the next AMRAP to keep us young.