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Episode 86: Active Aging

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Physical fitness plays an important role in slowing the affects of aging. This week Pete McCall joins us to discuss the ins and outs of staying active as we age from getting started to rest and recovery.


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The content of this podcast has not been evaluated by Health Canada or the FDA. It is educational in nature and should not be taken as medical advice. Always consult a qualified medical professional to see if a diet, lifestyle change, or supplement is right for you. Any supplements mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please note that the opinions of the guests or hosts are their own and may not reflect those of Advanced Orthomolecular Research, Inc.

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Welcome to Supplementing Health, a podcast presented by Advanced Orthomolecular Research. We are all about applying evidence based and effective dietary lifestyle and natural health product strategies for your optimal health. In each episode, we will feature very engaging clinicians and experts from the world of functional and naturopathic medicine to help achieve our mission to empower people to lead their best lives naturally.

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[01:10] Cassy Price: Hello and thanks for tuning into Supplementing Health. The more people learn about the inner workings of the human body, the more ways we find to slow the aging process and support our bodily functions. However, regardless of how many advances are made there are always some tried and sure activities that hold steady. One of which is physical activity. One today’s episode Pete McCall is here to discuss how we can use physical activity to support healthy aging. Besides working with individual clients and teaching fitness classes Pete has more than 15 years’ experience educating personal trainers around the world. Welcome Pete, thanks for joining me today.

[01:41] Pete McCall: Well, thank you for having me. It is an honour to be here with you and your guests, I mean listeners. I am the guest they are the listeners. 

[01:48] Cassy Price: Beyond vanity what are some of the reasons that it is really important to stay active as we age?

[01:54] Pete McCall: I love that question because I just want to throw it out there, everybody wants to look a little bit better, right? That is one of the reasons why we use exercise. If we put that to the side, it is more important to think of exercise as a means for controlling how we age. We can’t change the fact that we are going to age, that is out of our control. Exercise really allows you to manage how the aging process affects your body.

[02:23] Cassy Price: Do you think there is an age where people should or more commonly do become cognisant of exercise impact on their aging body systems?

[02:35] Pete McCall: That is a good question. I think that is probably somewhere in the 50s or 60s because I think – this is going on years of observation. I have been working in health clubs for more than 20 years. This is really a lot of observation. As we get a little bit older, we tend to care a little bit less about physical appearance and really start to pay attention to the fact that moving and exercising and being active has a tremendous impact on our health and how we feel. I think that shift is probably in the 40s or 50s just from what I have heard from friends, clients, colleagues and whatnot. About that age in our 40s or 50s we start being a lot more mindful about how exercise makes us feel as well as how it can make us look.

[03:23] Cassy Price: I would agree. I think it becomes less about that look and more about the longevity piece of it. With research there has been a lot of studies done around our telomeres and their shortening is a huge factor in our aging or how well and how poorly we age. How does exercise impact that telomere shortening?

[03:49] Pete McCall: That is a great question. It is a very technical biochem question. I don’t have the expertise to speak directly to the telomeres shortening, but what the evidence is showing is that higher intensity exercise seems to be a better stress stimulus for initiating a bunch of effects that can help slow the aging process. For example, this is where – I try to understand a lot more about aging as well. When we started looking at telomeres, we started looking at genetic and being able to splice and move genes and be able to trigger certain genes. That is a little bit above my pay grade. I look at exercise and how exercise can influence these changes. What we know is that higher intensity exercise, like HIIT high intensity interval training and high intensity strength training, high intensity exercise puts the stress on the body that helps the body initiate production of new cells to begin with so you are getting new satellite cells and new tissue cells used in production. It can also increase the amount of mitochondria which are how cells produce energy. There is evidence, at this point I don’t understand it completely, there is evidence that high stress does manipulate the genes and epigenome. To understand how exactly that works is a little bit above my pay grade. I really look at how that exercise impacts that body. The evidence is pretty significant that it is a higher intensity exercise that can have a big impact on how we age.

[05:29] Cassy Price: Is there an age then at which HIIT activities are no longer safe, or people should be modifying them?

[05:36] Pete McCall:  In my opinion, no, not at all based on the evidence. Let me say this with a little bit more background. People are staying fit throughout the aging process. I want the listeners to be aware that the modern fitness industry goes back to about 1970. 1970 is when Arthur Jones invented all of the strength training equipment and made strength training more accessible to the average individual. The strength training gave rise to modern health clubs. You also had Judi Sheppard Misset starting Jazzercize in the late 60s. Cooper clinic was promoting aerobic exercise and jogging in the 70s. We can trace the modern fitness industry back to that era. If you take a look at that from the macro picture here is the interesting thing. People who are in their 20s, the baby boomers who were in their 20s, as the fitness industry was getting started, those people who have been working out throughout their lifespan for the last 50 years or more, I’m sure many of your listeners qualify and many of your listeners probably had a health club membership on and off going back 40 or 50 years, this is the fitness population that we have had of older adults that we have had. What it is showing us is that people remain active throughout aging, we mean that they exercise, do their favourite activities, they participate in strenuous activities, they need to monitor how intense they go but they can still enjoy their favourite activities into their 60s and 70s. I live in Southern California. I live in Carlsbad which is North of San Diego and San Diego County. I can tell you I go around here, and I go on the mountain biking trails and I go down to take my kids to play at the beach and I can tell you it is very consistent to see people in their 60s and 70s surfing, mountain biking, doing all the fun stuff that southern California has to offer. There is not a specific age that we should stop high intensity activities. In fact, we should do them as long as possible because it does help us to maintain our body a little bit more efficiently.

[07:48] Cassy Price: It is funny that you say that we see more people in their 60s and 70s doing these activities because I was actually just talking with my friend the other day about how older adults when we were younger 60 or 70 seemed so old. Now you see them, and you would never really guess that they were in their 60s or 70s. you would think more like 40s or 50s because it seems like everybody is staying younger for longer. It creates this perception that age is just a number, and it is about your activity level and your health maintenance and whatnot, and it really determines what you can and can’t do at any age.

[08:27] Pete McCall: That is just it. You have to understand my bias is that I have worked in the fitness industry for more than 20 years. A lot of my colleagues, a lot of the people that I work around are associated with that. It really is remarkable when I look at the people that I work with verses the general population, the people that I work with who are in their 40s and 50s and even 60s now, this older generation of fitness professionals, they look years younger than other people in the general population who haven’t made fitness and health a priority. That is really what it becomes, right? As we get a little bit older, age is going to change our body a little bit we are going to gain a pound or two. In my opinion that doesn’t matter. If you have an extra pound of two of body weight, who cares? What matters is that you are active every day. You are using your body every day. You are challenging your muscles every day. You are getting your heart rate up a little bit every day. It is that consistency that every day physical activity that really provides very strong evidence that we can control how aging affects the body.

[09:38] Cassy Price: Do you find that the diets you suggest or that your clients use changes with age as well or is it that if you are eating a healthy diet, you are eating a healthy diet and it is not really any considerations there?

[09:51] Pete McCall: That is a fabulous question because really when it comes to diet, I am not an RDN a registered dietitian nutritionist, I do get a chance to talk to as many as possible for my podcast. When I talk to nutritionists, people who have studied nutrition, there is a significant influence on nutrition on how we age. As we age, we should be looking more towards more whole foods. The foods that are easier and more readily made to digest. We need fresh fruits and vegetables as supposed to cans and frozen fruits and vegetables. The enzymes in the body have an easier time of breaking down and mixing with the enzymes of fresh fruit. That becomes critical during that aging process. There are other things we can do with nutrition. For men specifically, men will produce less testosterone as part of aging. That is a fact. High intensity strength training and then a diet that includes omega 3 and omega 6 fats like found in freshwater fish or nuts and healthy oils, the omega 3 and 6 fats are a component of testosterone. Men over the age of 40 who want to increase testosterone can do it via a combination of strength training and nutrition. That is where working with an RDN would be helpful to go down that path. Little changes like that, adding more intense exercise and taking a look at some of your diet and what you can be eating to support the natural anabolic which are the growth-oriented processes in the body very easy to apply and put into practice.

[11:34] Cassy Price: Speaking of strength training, one of the things that we see with aging adults is loss of muscle mass, is it possible to regain that muscle mass as you age or is there an age that you reach where you have to start mitigating that muscle loss rather than looking at building or growth?

[11:54] Pete McCall: That right there is the million-dollar question, right? I know there is a lot of research being done on that. Full disclosure, a friend of mind is the chief science officer for a biotech start up looking at muscle growth and sarcopenia and whatnot. We talk a little bit about what they are looking at in the lab along with what we understand but what it appears right now is that we can’t stop this age-related muscle loss. We don’t really know why it happens. Going back to your question about the telomeres, it could be the structure of the cell DNA or the structure of the cell itself, but we are not sure why it happens. There has been some research to suggest that lifting weights can really significantly slow down this age-related muscle loss. I saw a study when I was writing my book, Ageless Intensity, I read one study that looked at how master level power lifters in their 40s and 50s. They compared these power lifters to people in the same age group who didn’t exercise. They found that over the course of time, they tracked these people for four or five years, the power lifters lost muscle mass because they are in their 40s and 50s but they lost it at a much slower rate. I think they lost 1% of muscle mass over the study period as supposed to 3 or 4% of muscle mass for the average population during the same study period. It was a small study sample; it is not a huge thing. It shows there is evidence that strength training helps us maintain muscle mass even well into our later years like our 70s and 80’s.

[13:32] Cassy Price: That is interesting. Protein is thought of being the be all and end all when it comes to building that muscle mass. Are there other nutrients that you think of as being pertinent to that maintenance and growth as well?

[13:49] Pete McCall: It is funny because again not being a nutritionist, it is something you study as a nutritional scientist, reading about this I sat through a talk the other week and talking about intermittent fasting and the need to do protein supplementing during intermittent fasting, right? That is where for listeners, intermittent fasting is this practice of not eating for periods. There are different models out there between 14 and 18 hours at a time and then having periods of eating. The reason why I bring up intermittent fasting is that one of the main things we can do beside exercise to slow down aging is caloric restriction. When you look on the literature on extending lifespan and longevity the two things that keep coming up are exercise and caloric restriction. They are the two ways to extend the lifespan. There has been a lot of looks into intermittent fasting. There have been pretty interesting studies that show that intermittent fasting and caloric restriction can improve cell health and the function of cells. Where I am going with that is that intermittent fasting can be good for doing that, but we want to maintain muscle mass or build muscle mass we do need to supplement protein. We do need to, especially when we get a little older, because protein does support the muscle building processes. To answer your question. I am a proponent of looking at people considering intermittent fasting as we get a little older for watching caloric intake and having a structure to follow but at the same time it would need to be modified in order to take in aminos or proteins to support muscle growth. This is an area that has been piquing my interest so I haven’t really kicked the tires or gone down the deep dive on it but those are a couple of questions that come to mind. Okay, intermittent fasting can be good for maintaining fitness during aging but at the same time we do need to take in protein to promote normal muscle growth. There is more information to be forthcoming I guess.

[15:59] Cassy Price: If someone hasn’t been previously active or they are not someone who has had that regular physical activity as part of their life, would something like intermittent fasting be a good place to start or are they better to start moving their body and baby step it that way?

[16:15] Pete McCall:  When we look at this, people know they need to exercise, and they know the benefits. At this point they should understand the benefits of exercise and the number of benefits not just the extrinsic appearance stuff. The main thing – the science now shifts from exercise science more to behavioural science which is how do we institute behaviours because I am much less concerned about what you are doing, I would rather see you implement a behaviour where you start doing something on a regular basis. Meaning that starting just by drinking more water, drinking less soda, maybe going for a walk around the block two or three days a week. Starting to make small behaviour changes can have a much greater effect long term than starting – if you try to start something like an intermittent fasting plan and start a full soup to nuts strength training, resistance training, mobility exercise program, it might not be successful because you haven’t implemented the basic habits of having more water, getting more sleep, making time for exercise. Thinking about it that way about making time for 15-minute walk three times a week, that eventually follows for making time for the gym three or four times a week. We have to start with the habits. For someone looking to start a little bit later my recommendation would be to start making walking a habit. Start with a friend or make an appointment with yourself, make it a habit and once you’re consistent with that then what other activities are you interested in doing? Is there a fitness class that you would like to take? Would you like to join a yoga study? Would you like to join an indoor cycling studio or get an indoor cycling bike at home? Then looking at what those other options are. The mistake I see made often and I hear people make is “I’m going to make all of these changes overnight. I haven’t done anything for the last number of months and I know I need to take my health into consideration. This week I am going to do this, this, this and this.” If they fail at one of those all of a sudden it is very easy to give up on everything. If you are trying to change your diet or nutrition or your activity and you are trying to change too much at the same time, then nothing goes well. If you work on changing one thing at a time, one activity a week or one activity a month then before long you know you have completely changed your lifestyle. I think that is a much more pragmatic way to approach that. What can I do today? Let me start there and build it up from that standpoint.

[19:01] Cassy Price: That totally makes sense. Have you looked at the psychology behind how long it takes for people to build those habits? I think I have heard 21 days in some cases. I have heard eight weeks in others. Have you looked into that and come up with standard recommendations that seem to work for your clients?

[19:22] Pete McCall:  You are right there are different studies in this behaviour change theory. There are a number of different components and variables in behaviour change theory. We see it tends to seem relatively consistent is somewhere between 30 and 45 days. If you are doing something between 30 and 45 days, it can become a habit. That is what is so important – part of behaviour change theory is called vicarious experiences. This is where having a likeminded community is so important. Vicarious experiences mean that if I see you doing it and I relate to you and you are I are both whatever age we are and we are both of the same gender, for the sake of argument, both of the same gender and both about the same age and I see you having success in implementing this new activity or healthy behaviour it makes it more likely that I will say to myself “if he can do it, I can do it.” That is one component of behaviour change and why it is so important to become involved in a fitness study or a community because if you see other people around you having that success it will probably take a shorter period of time to implement healthy behaviour changes whereas if you are trying to do it on your own or doing it solo, not that it can’t be done, but you don’t have that support network, you don’t see other people, you can’t celebrate your successes “hey, I went five days without having a soda.” Even little things like that. That is a big deal. For people who might drink one or two sodas a day, going a week without having a soda is a huge deal. Getting grouped into a community of people who are focused on health is a way to celebrate that. That is really where I think one of the cool things, I think we are in a shift right now. A lot of the educators in the industry are talking about this and we are trying to be very mindful of it. We are in this shift of people understanding that exercise is really about health and not necessarily about appearance. I know we talked about that a lot as instructors and coaches. What language can we use to emphasise health and focusing on the health outcomes of the exercise as supposed to focusing on the exercise for the sake of losing weight or for the sake of appearance. All I have to say is that I think there is some cool stuff about how we can use exercise to maintain health and be in control of life going forward.

[21:48] Cassy Price: I agree with you. I think that is one of the positives that has come out of the pandemic that we have been through the last couple of years. People did start to put more focus on their wellness or their health, whether it be physical or mental health both of which were very much affected by the isolation and whatnot that came out of it. I also think more opportunities for community came out of it as well. We used to think it has to only be our gym community but now with more online there is a lot more opportunity for people to find other likeminded communities that they fit in better if they are not the ‘gym buff’ that has always been going to the gym and they feel uncomfortable at their local gym because it seems to be more advanced athletes there.

[22:36] Pete McCall:  You are so right. It is funny because I have had this conversation with a few friends in the industry and a few friends not in the fitness industry. The conversation focused on what did we learn? What is something positive that we took out of the experience of 2020? The one thing that keeps popping up is the need to have community. The sense that when we got stuck in quarantine, we weren’t able to see the people that we saw every day. For some of us there is a direct tie and a direct correlation with mental health and physical health, everything goes together. I think that is one of the cool things. We were able to find community through being online together. We realised the value of community with things. It might not be exercise, maybe it is the group at your local coffee shop, maybe it is the group your volunteer with at your faith-based organization, having that community is so critical. That is one of the main things about exercise and fitness that people overlook. If you are going to a gym or a studio on a regular basis that does become an extended family. That does become an extended community that you are a part of. That is what a lot of people overlook. When you go to a studio you automatically are welcomed into that community. I’ll share this but just the other night I went to a breathing and meditation studio for the first time, but they did a really good job of making me feel welcome and making me feel like I was a part of that with the people practicing there on a regular basis.

[24:10] Cassy Price: That is super important to especially when you are foraying into a new world, if you are someone who has never gone to a gym in your life, and this is something that you are now trying then that sense of feeling welcome definitely makes it easier versus where you feel dejected and like an outsider. You are more likely to keep up with it when you are comfortable.

[24:30] Pete McCall: We get that because we are idiots when we are young kids. I say that with all loving grace, but we are idiots when we were young kids and we would take out our insecurities on other people, so we make fun of somebody in a gym class 30/40/50 years ago, we don’t realise what affect that has on them later in life and having that relationship. I can’t tell you the number of people I have worked with over the years that because they had a negative experience in PE growing up, they didn’t feel like they could be part of fitness centre or a health club community. Health clubs can be very intimidating. Everybody is there for the same reason. Everybody is going to a health club because they are trying to get 1% better that day. A friend of mine posted a meme a number of years ago and I absolutely loved this. The meme was a picture of an overweight person on a treadmill and the meme was ‘making fun of an overweight person at a gym is like making fun of a homeless person at a job fair. Both are trying to do something to improve their lives.’ Then incapsulates a lot. I think people would be surprised. We have had this statement about health clubs and studios being, they can be – but for the most part people just want to see your success. Other people in classes and the other people in the gym want to see you do well. That again can be another powerful stimulus for joining some kind of club or studio where you create this sense of community.

[26:05] Cassy Price: I think honestly our biggest roadblocks are our own mental roadblocks that we put up, right? It is about finding ways to get past those or reshape those so that they fit with what we need for a healthier lifestyle. Are there workouts or exercise types that are more efficient than others for those people who are taking their first steps?

[26:29] Pete McCall:  That is where the workouts for people starting – I would look at for group workouts, I would look at things like gentle yoga, barre class would be a place to start, indoor cycling. Those are classes that would be more, I don’t want to say lower intensity, but they are not focused on high intensity, if that makes sense? An indoor cycling class – here’s the thing. I have taught indoor cycling for 20 years and I have never seen two bikes run into each other. I have seen a lot of silly things happen in an indoor cycling studio, but I have never seen one bike run into the bike in front of it meaning that you can go at your own pace. You can be somebody who is brand new riding in front of someone who is pretending to be the next Lance Armstrong and both of you are going to get a good workout and you are not going to bump into each other. Group cycling is a great way to get started because you can go at your own pace. Barre is a non-intimidating way to start strength training. Yoga. We all need a chance to move and breathe for an hour at a time and if you start doing those two or three classes and you go with it, that will be a great foundation for a fitness program right there.

[27:44] Cassy Price: Does your recovery time change with age or are there ways to help maintain a recovery time regardless of the activity?

[27:54] Pete McCall:  I love that. I have noticed that my recovery times at my five birthdays. At 35 and at 45 I tended to recover a little bit longer. Yes, it does. We have to remember that exercise is stress imposed upon the body. Exercise is physical stress. When we are younger in our teens and 20s we are very resilient both mentally and physically we can go through it and handle a lot. As we age the cells in our body and the systems and structures in our body take just a little longer to do their job. You do a really high intensity workout at 25 you are a little bit more efficient, and it might only take you one night to recover and be ready to go the next day. At 45, 20 years later, your muscles are going to be efficient at working but they need a little bit more time to restore and replace the energy they spend to maybe repair some of the damaged fibres and be ready to go again. That is where as we age you can still do two or three hard workouts a week and you should but you need to respect your body and listen to it more and take that recovery time. One of the cool things about the last few years in sports is that in sports recovery is becoming a much more prevalent topic. In NBA they are calling it load management. We all know what Tom Brady has been doing playing football at 44 years old. Now, we can have this thought of “hey, I have been working out really hard and I have been going really hard, it is okay for me to take a day off and go for a walk today” or “it’s okay for me to take a day off to do some gentle movement” because we understand a lot more about the role of recovery and the benefit of that day off. As we age, we definitely need to listen to our body more and honour it by giving a little bit more time between those really hard workouts.

[29:47] Cassy Price: Would active recovery be the better option than taking a full day off and just rest?

[29:54] Pete McCall: 100%. It goes back to the idea that we want to move a little bit every day, right? If you did a really hard workout yesterday and you are feeling a little bit beat up today, the best thing you can do Is get out and move a little bit. Get out for a long walk or a gentle yoga class. That is the type of program that I try to recommend to readers of Ageless Intensity is that two or three days a week you want to do a hard workout but two or three days a week you want to do a low intensity or easy workout because it is that low intensity easy workout when your body is adapting to the stresses of the hard workout. They go hand in hand. The funny thing is that we have this idea in our head, this goes back to the dawn of the fitness industry, that if there is no pain there is no gain and we have to go for the burn. We have to leave those mottos behind in the 70s and 80s where they started because really pain means your body is doing something that your body is doing something that it shouldn’t be doing. Discomfort means your body is working at levels that it is not used to doing. We need to listen to our body; is it discomfort or is it pain? If it is pain, we should stop. We shouldn’t try to push through pain. That burning means that your muscles are working at a high level or intensity, and they need a little bit of time to recover afterwards. Yes, as we get older we need to do a much better job of listening to our body and honouring it with rest when we need it.

[31:22] Cassy Price: That totally makes sense, for sure. Awesome. I really appreciate you chatting with me today. If our listeners want to learn more from you, I know you mentioned your book is Ageless Intensity and they can find that on your twitter account as well you have your own podcast. I believe it is All About Fitness, correct?

[31:42] Pete McCall: Right. Yes. All About Fitness. You get a lot of conversations like these. I have talked to researchers. I have talked to people who create the programs and products and just really try to help listeners understand how exercise changes the body.

[31:55] Cassy Price: Thank you for doing this with me. I really appreciate it.

[31:57] Pete McCall:  Thank you for having me. Thank you for letting me spend some time with your listeners.

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Thank you for listening to Supplementing Health. For more information about our guests, past shows, and future topics, please visit AOR.ca/podcasts or AOR.us/podcasts. Do you have a topic you want us to cover? We invite you to engage with us on social media to request a future topic or email us at marketing@aor.ca. We hope you tune in again next week to learn more about supplementing your health.

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