Longevity in Sport and Life: The Tools You Need – Part One

Age is whatever you think it is. You are as old as you think you are. – Muhammad Ali

You aren’t old until age becomes your excuse. – Joe Friel

 

It’s official. I’m in my fifth decade. Just thought I’d get that out of the way. So far, it's going rather well. Well enough that I feel obliged to share what I think is working for me so far.

I can’t tell you how frequently I hear age being offered as an excuse for no longer being able to perform the sport you love. It’s also used often to explain a decline in performance, weight gain, lack of energy (which corresponds with a lack in motivation), or chronic pain and poor recovery.

A lot of what I will offer here will be anecdotal, based on my own experiences and those of my clients, but let me just say a few things about science as there’s a lot of buzz around it these days in both fitness and therapy. You can correlate anything with anything. I heard an interesting statistic this morning correlating arm fractures with astrological signs to the tune of 38%. So be careful with studies, and remember “absence of evidence is not always evidence of absence”. Just because we don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And just because someone says it over and over, doesn’t meant it is true.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a huge respect for science. BUT. You are your own best therapist. You decide.

Chronological Age Vs Biological Age: chronological age is the number of years you’ve been alive, where biological age is how old you FEEL. There are many lifestyle factors to take into consideration here, and I would suggest factors you can manipulate.

To a degree, how you age will be influenced by genetics. But nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress management also contribute to a substantial degree. Don’t arbitrarily assume the decline you feel is attributed to age. Often it is due to adopting a more sedentary lifestyle as we take on the responsibilities of a career, children, aging parents, a changing hormonal profile, and weight gain as we don’t adjust our nutrition to match the decrease in exercise.

MY LONGEVITY TOOLS

1. Spinal Decompression (ELDOA)

I started studying with Dr. Guy Voyer in 2015. His interpretation of the tensegrity model started to really resonate as I sought to find treatment for all the symptoms I was developing due to my scoliosis (I have curvatures in both my lumbar and thoracic spine).

Every time I rode my bike, I was in pain. Burning nerve pain down my right leg, both climbing and descending. My pelvis was so rotated I warped every saddle I rode, whether mountain or road bike. I stopped running once I saw a video of my running gait, as there was no way I could win the tug of war in my spine. Every time I sat my right leg went to sleep.

Simply put, in Dr. Voyer’s words, the spine and vertebrae are in relation to all in the body – spine, pelvis, skull and all the bones. Structure dictations function. Pain results from compression. Muscles are just stupid pieces of meat. The curvatures of the spine absorb and dissipate stress from the movement of the body and forces applied to it, including gravity. Abnormalities in this alignment result in a change of shape in the natural curvatures. As we age, the shape of the bones are fixed, but the curvature resulting from the muscle adaption can be changed, and this is where the ELDOA method comes in.

Within two weeks of practicing ELDOA my rotation changed to a significant degree. And there began my commitment to studying this method. After my first treatment with Dr. Voyer in October, 2015 in London, UK, my right leg stopped going numb and the numbness has never returned.

Think of ELDOA as postural training for your spine, teaching it to work towards a position where the least amount of strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments during movement. Managing the gravity line of the body assists in keeping bones and joints in an alignment that allows muscles to be used efficiently. Each ELDOA exercise is practiced with the goal being to increase space within a chosen articulation. And the body responds with an improvement of joint mechanics, increased blood flow, reduced pressure on the discs, spinal disc rehydration, reduction in pain, improved posture and tone of postural muscles.

Are they easy? Absolutely not. There is nothing passive about these exercises. They are difficult and will make you work like nothing else. From the outside looking in, it should be easy. But think of our present day lifestyle. Combine too much sitting with too much riding and suddenly using your postural muscles in an upright position is way harder then it should be.

From a longevity perspective, I believe the ELDOA exercises to be essential. This comes back to chronological age versus biological age. A limber, mobile spine with a good sense of where it needs to be (think the quality of proprioception) is key. A bonus is the relationship of all the nerves and visceral organs via the spinal cord – there is an attachment for all viscera to the spine.

#trainthespine, #allthetime

2. HRV (heart rate variability)

What is it? The variation in the time interval between heartbeats. Measured by the variation in the beat-to-beat intervals (RR intervals).

The science behind measuring HRV is strong, and widely recognized. Tracking HRV long term will help guide you in making health and performance decisions. It is especially useful in recognizing how lifestyle factors are affecting you, as well as discovering unknown stressors that are inhibiting your health and performance.

It’s a metric that will tell you exactly what the effects of a training session are. It’s a metric that will tell you if you are recovered enough to train again. It’s a metric that will let you know if your immune system is compromised before you feel it. It’s a metric that will let you know if your weekly stress load is greater than recovery. It’s a metric you need.

Unlike resting heart rate, a steady increase in HRV over a period of time is reflective of an increase in fitness and OVERALL health. When I coach cycling clients, it is a mandatory. It helps us ensure we are overreaching not overtraining. It gives the client essential insight and decision-making power if I can’t be reached. HRV in the tank? Not a good day to train. Train anyway? Know that it will now be more difficult to recover, and for adequate adaptation to occur.

Other examples of useful context when monitoring HRV:
- sleep duration/quality
- exercise duration and intensity
- mood
- weight
- alcohol consumption/quantity
- nutrition
- hormonal cycles
- commuting, travel, shiftwork

How I Use It.
I use the Elite HRV app with my heart rate monitor and take a 2 ½ minute reading every morning before I get out of bed. The app will give me a “score” but I pay more attention to my actual HRV number and resting heart rate. I’ve been using this for years so have a good idea of what a healthy baseline is and how this correlates to everything else in my life. Any significant deviations let me know that my autonomic nervous system is either in “flight or fight” or “rest and recharge” status, and what my training plan should be for the day. It also has become really useful in my need to self-experiment with nutrition, supplements, when and how long I sleep, etc. I recently did a 30-day introduction of a collagen supplement and saw an increase in HRV (a good thing). It was an excellent tool a few years back when I was recovering from frying my HPA axis during a particularly stressful personal time combined with overtraining for a multi-day stage race. When I had a bacterial infection earlier this year, and saw numbers lower than ever previously recorded, it let me know it was time to see my physician. Again, long term trending will help you make good decisions.

So be careful out there. In the current model of train hard all the time, time crunched fitness, please remember that training is a stressor on the body, and in our North American culture, we’ve got plenty of stress. You need to choose what and when you train. Training harder won’t necessarily make you faster. Recovering from the stress of training will. Again, tracking your HRV will give you a very accurate indication of how your approach is working for you.

3. Strength Training/Muscular Endurance

Strength training is an important aspect of aging well. I read an interesting statistic the other day: women who don’t strength train will lose 30% of their bone density by age 60. THIRTY PERCENT. No thank you.

Don’t assume you can maintain muscle mass/bone density by simply performing your sport. Remember, the body needs progressive overload always to adapt. Whatever that looks like. Just doing what you’ve always done won’t get you there. At some point in life your sport, although psychologically doing you a lot of good, physically will need to be offset through training. That’s what the gym is for. And please forget the idea of “off-season” training. Unless you are a 26 year old male Olympic athlete. Everyone else needs to strength train ALL THE TIME. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but most weeks of the year.

Train your stabilizing muscles as well in isolation alongside your lifts. This includes flexors and extensors of the spine. Somewhere along the way fitness thought it was a bad idea and resorted to partial ranges and isometric work only. Train full range and a lot of volume in the muscles that are supposed to work all day every day. Not 15-20 reps. More like 50-100 reps. In my gym, no one lifts anything other than their bodies day one, regardless of their background. We work stabilizers first, then progress to loaded exercise.

Final Thought: You have control over many of your lifestyle factors, and ultimately you have choice over how this next phase of life goes for you. You decide how much you work, eat, sleep, exercise, drink, stress. Having a solid maintenance plan in effect means life doesn't happen to you. It's the difference between having a life you create, or having a life you react to.

So there you go. Part Two to follow.

All materials ©2018, Monika Marx | Design by Action Design | Development by John Housser | Photography by Stephen Wilde and Danielle Baker