Life at 50 Plus: Don’t Surrender, Rebuild

By Nicole Gustavson

Why do some think of being a part of the “50-plus crowd” as off-putting, when maybe we should relish the glory?

I hope to have figured out all that eludes me in the next 10 years, but I’ll settle for growing to a point where I don’t care about the unimportant problems. Maybe I’ll have time to “ponder” again—a fragile privilege taken for granted by the carefree under 30s.

Ten years from now, my parenting obligations will be legally optional and I can opt to join this coveted, almost mythical group which revels in being infinitely wiser than the 40-somethings. Joining the ranks of the 50-plus crowd means attaining a status of enjoying the fruits of a life well-lived. With blueprint rules satisfied, the party is now planned, starting, and paid for. So, what’s the problem?

No one can wholly escape the inevitability of aging any more than the passing of time. However, we do possess more control over the process than we’re led to believe. We need not surrender gracefully. In fact, I’m gunning for a full 30-plus years of being 50-plus and here’s how: The Fountain of Youth.

While not elaborately carved from stone and brimming with magical fluid for life’s happy hour, it’s as boring as exercise. Muscular strength—when built, maintained, and defended fiercely—is the secret to eternal youth, period. At 50, we are endowed with an option that is time efficient, effective, and astonishingly safe. This phenomenon is accessible to everyone; even us undeserving younger folk.

Your later years can prove your fullest years, if you embrace that the truth of eternal youth will require some simple, but earnest work to build and maintain muscle. At minimum, body weight, focus, and effort are all that is needed, and progress can be had in as little as 20 minutes a week. No joke. You actually get to stall and reverse your aging. Want to be the last party-goer standing in your 90s without assistance?

Science has focused on the role of mitochondria—the cellular powerhouse that generates the majority of the body’s energy from nutrients and oxygen—to reveal that cellular damage manifests through physiological signs of aging. In other words, the loss of muscle mass, brain volume, skin elasticity, hair loss, pigmentation, etc., are largely all due to “malfunctioning” mitochondria. More inconvenient, normal activity within the mitochondria generate unstable chemicals that harm the cell as a whole, resulting in genetic mutations. While these anomalies self-correct owing to specialized repair systems within the cell, they do so only up to a point, determined by age. Over time, the number of mutations necessary begins to overwhelm our cell’s ability to make the necessary repairs, and “malfunctioning” and “progressively aging” technically come to mean one and the same. When the withering mitochondria are unable to self-repair, they die.

As human aging is associated with skeletal muscle atrophy and functional impairment, multiple lines of evidence suggest that mitochondrial malfunction is a major contributor. What’s most astonishing is that the number of mitochondria we store depend on what that particular cell needs to do. If the cell requires substantially more energy, as a muscle cell would, more mitochondria will be created to meet demand.

Without exception, no matter our age, the growth of muscle will slow, halt, and even reverse. While this is worthy of enthusiasm on par to discovering the Fountain itself, older healthy adults with mitochondrial impairment and muscle weakness can markedly reverse cellular conditions back to that of younger levels for most genes.

Practicing doctor, personal trainer, and co-author of “Body by Science,” Dr. Doug McGuff, often discusses this exact phenomenon and asserts an even greater promise—safety nor precious time need be sacrificed in this critical effort any more than that needed to brush our teeth. You can have it all.

What is most profound is the universal conclusion that our mitochondria determine our aging process, and intense muscular stimulation will produce and reactivate the mitochondria of our youth. McGuff asserts that while strength is a marker of youth, that which is already lost can be recouped, in a manner safer and more efficient than your typical household errand.

Muscle at any age will adapt to what you do or don’t do, use it or lose it. Trust, too, that the law of inertia ensures that what is at rest, stays at rest. But why stay at rest and suffer needlessly when intense spurts of muscular contraction will produce significant changes in the very epigenetic signals that control mitochondria production?

With the right quality and execution, a little goes a long way, so you can get on with the good stuff. What’s not welcome after 50-plus hard years of good “peopling” is osteoporosis, diabetes, impaired cardiac function, weight gain (due to decreasing metabolism and loss of glucose sensitivity), joint pain, loss of balance, injury, and on, and on, and on. Our muscles serve as the engine, chassis, and shock absorbers of our bodies, and with their continued stimulation comes the life force of healthier mitochondria.

As ourfunctional ability and stamina depend on our physical strength, the more we have the more we can do, and the better we will age. Simple, no-nonsense, slow-motion strength training—while demanding—is the simplest insurance to securing VIP access to the party of your life

To quote one of our fellow pioneers, InForm Fitness Client Alan: “I’m 65 years old and absolutely convinced that my weekly session at InForm Fitness Leesburg and Reston is the best way ever to reverse the aging process. Many friends my age are noticeably in steady decline, BUT NOT ME. … I’m stronger, enjoying outdoor activities (both fun and work) more. If you want to make a smart investment for retirement … this [strategy] is it!”


Nicole Gustavson, CHC, brought InForm Fitness to Northern Virginia and is owner of both the Leesburg and Reston Studios. Her qualifications include a degree in Health Coaching from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Metagenics First Line Therapy, and extends this developing expertise in the areas of Nutrition and Lifestyle Coaching to better serve her clients.

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