•In our next issue, we delve deeper into the topic of
Sleep and Restoration
aging and health, this time focusing on the brain and gut.
We all know about the importance of REM, but don’t discount slow-wave sleep.
Slow-wave sleep is when the heart rate lowers, bones and tissues have a chance to
regenerate, energy stores recharge and the immune system strengthens. According
to Dr. Mehrdad Razavi, medical director of the Marin Memory and Sleep Center,
the three cornerstones of optimal health are nutrition, exercise and sleep. “While
most folks know the importance of exercise and nutrition, sleep has been somewhat
neglected by both the public and medical community,” he says.
“Slow wave (deep) sleep seems to be more important for physical regeneration,
while REM sleep is more critical for emotional regeneration. Therefore, sleep disturbance could result in impairment in any or all of those systems, i.e., increased
cardiovascular risk, hormonal imbalance, weight gain, pain, increased infection and
premature death.” On the other hand, improving the quality of sleep has been shown
to have positive effects on all of the above. “It is critical that the public and medical
community look at sleep health the way we look at exercise and nutrition, as the
impact and reward could be great,” Razavi says.
Ideally, restorative sleep is made up of five stages that take place during 90- to
120-minute cycles throughout the night. During these stages, growth hormones and
melatonin levels (which are important for muscle maintenance and repair) increase,
while the stress hormone cortisol decreases. It’s no surprise that daytime sleepiness
makes people more accident prone and impatient, but recent research suggests far
more alarming consequences: one recent study found non-restorative sleep can take
a toll on the nervous and endocrine system and raise risk for stroke, diabetes, obesity
and heart disease. Continual lack of sleep also affects the outside of your body, exacerbating fine lines and leading to under-eye circles and drab skin.
Sleep trackers now on the market can help us track our z’s, but do these devices
work? Kind of, but not in the way you may expect, Razavi says: “While none of these
sleep trackers (such as Fitbit) have been scientifically validated or endorsed by AASM
(American Academy of Sleep Medicine) or can tell about the underlying cause and
diagnoses of a lack of sleep, they are still useful as far as increasing the sleep awareness and engagement of the public.”
TIP: Can’t sleep? Rest. Michael Feldman of Mike’s Body Shop in Mill Valley has
been working with clients for 28 years on optimizing and balancing/aligning the
body through strength training and the movement/manipulation technique called
structural integration. When it comes to healthy aging, he says, “five to 10 minutes of
a restorative pose is the new apple a day.” Why? According to Feldman, the intent is
to quiet the mind and support the diaphragm, which will in turn oxygenate the blood
and connective tissue where stress accumulates and is stored, as well as activate the
parasympathetic nervous system that governs bodily functions. One helpful pose
is savasana, propping the legs up against a wall as you lie on your back with support
from pillows or yoga blocks. “Support is critical,” Feldman says. “We live in a ‘go and
do’ culture, which heightens the sympathetic nervous system. But when the body
is supported the parasympathetic [system] can heal all of [the body’s] systems,
including metabolism, nervous and digestion.” What does this have to do with aging
gracefully? A lot, says Feldman. When the body’s internal connective tissue fails, the
aging process accelerates and you start to see wrinkly skin, poor vision, bad muscle
coordination and other problems.
Moving the body is crucial to good health and aging well,
but in the United States it seems we have “engineered
exercise out of our lives, as we hardly walk any where,”
Kennedy says. “Exercise has turned into something we
have to find time for rather than incorporating daily.
This may be one reason why the Japanese tend to live
longer than us — they walk regularly.”
Buck Institute’s Simon Melov, a Ph.D. and professor,
agrees: “People who are more active are healthier for lon-
ger. There’s an overwhelming body of data that directly
relates exercise to overall health.” That includes Melov’s
own study of seniors that revealed strength training
exercise reverses aging in human skeletal tissue.
“About six or seven years ago we recruited a group
of elderly folk who had done no resistance training,” he
recalls. “In collaboration with our Canadian colleagues
at McMaster University Medical Center, we did muscle
biopsies on those individuals, and then put them on a
six-month strength-training program. We took a second
muscle biopsy to see what happened to their individual
gene expression profile, which is a genetic portrait of gene
activity. When compared to young people, it showed that
the gene expression profile, after resistance training for six
months, was reversed back to that of a more youthful state.
In a very real sense, the resistance training had reversed
certain aspects of the aging process at a genetic level. And
that was a pretty impressive result.” Many studies have
since backed up those results. Bottom line: age-related disease is reduced if you are a regular exerciser. “It’s a really
powerful anti-disease mechanism,” Melov says.
TIP: Stay light. Given the high activity level here in
Marin, the word athlete no longer has an age association, says Dave Goltz, an orthopedic surgeon and sports
medicine specialist who works in Larkspur at Mt. Tam
Orthopedics as well as in Park City, Utah, as the head
team physician for the U.S. freestyle Olympic ski team.
“Patients ask me all the time how they can keep their
bodies in the best shape possible,” he says. “The key
is moderating exercise, choosing low-impact activities
and keeping the routine varied. One of the top concerns
for older athletes seems to be knee arthritis, and for
this I tell my clients to not gain weight. Losing weight
saves your knees.” His tips for staying on the trails for as
long as possible? Low-impact activities like hiking, biking and swimming, when combined with body-weight
core strengthening, such as Pilates or in some types of
yoga, can be a lifelong strategy for fitness. Bone mass
is especially helped by low-impact choices like hiking.