About six months ago, I wrote a blog post about the anti-aging effects of carbohydrate restriction and mind-body exercise. I've decided to do a follow-up since I'm turning 47 this week and want to share some additional information on aging that I've learned.
In all honesty, your genes do play a large role in determining the rate at which you age, the degree to which you tend to gain weight, and the types of chronic diseases you're at risk to develop as you get older. It's not fair, but that's the way it is. However, there are so many things we do have control over that affect how we age, particularly what we eat and how much exercise we get. It's empowering to realize how much you can do to look and feel your best! My motto is, do the best you can with what you've got and don't compare yourself to others. A second recommendation would be to not compare your current self to your 20-something self. There's no way to turn back the hands of time, and we shouldn't spend our energy and efforts trying to do so. Focus on the present and the future.
Elevated blood sugar contributes to wrinkled skin and other signs of aging.
Advanced glycation end-products (appropriately abbreviated AGEs) occur when glucose reacts with proteins and fats in the body, forming cross-linkages that accelerate the aging process and contribute to chronic disease. This reaction occurs in everyone, although to a much greater extent in people with uncontrolled diabetes. AGEs are considered largely responsible for the damage to the kidneys, eyes, cardiovascular system, and extremities that occurs when blood glucose levels are high. There is evidence indicating that AGEs also contribute to skin wrinkling, loss of collagen and elasticity, and other signs of aging. Although twin studies have demonstrated that the amount of AGEs circulating in our bloodstream is determined in part by genetics, environmental factors such as smoking and the types of food we eat also play a role. Vitamin B6 may help counteract the effects of AGEs in diabetes complications such as neuropathy, but at this time it's not clear if taking supplements will help prevent skin damage. Research suggests that caloric restriction (CR) can help counteract the effect of AGEs on skin; however, this can cause unwanted effects on the thyroid, including lowering of metabolic rate, in addition to being very hard to sustain without high levels of hunger. Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets (VLCKDs) have been shown to mimic many of the beneficial effect of calorie restriction without the adverse reactions often seen in CR. They also help normalize blood glucose levels, which further reduces AGE levels.
Fat is good for your skin.
Dietary fat gets such a bad rap among many health authorities, so it's great to see research demonstrating its benefits, including healthy skin. Despite what many people have been led to believe, consuming fat --including saturated fat -- can reduce the signs of aging. Researchers in Japan examining the effect of diet on skin in over 1000 women found that those who consumed the highest amount of fat scored best in terms of wrinkling and skin elasticity, provided they also obtained antioxidants in the form of nonstarchy vegetables.
Now, I know there are people who follow a low-fat diet and have great skin. I ate a low-fat diet for many years, and people still thought I looked younger than my age (or at least that's what they told me!) But since I started low-carbing and significantly increased the amount of fat and saturated fat in my diet, I've definitely noticed that the quality of my skin has improved. My pores appears smaller, my skin is very smooth, and I never break out, which was a problem I periodically struggled with in the past. I truly feel that my skin looks better than it has in years. Maybe it's a combination of high fat intake and improved blood glucose control from following a VLCKD?
Exercise is important as we age, but trying to burn off calories by working out harder may be counterproductive to weight loss efforts
We constantly hear that in order to lose weight, we need to burn more calories than we consume. While it is true that a caloric deficit is necessary for weight loss, there are well-controlled studies indicating resting metabolic rate (RMR) often decreases when endurance exercise is performed daily over several weeks, including one on identical twins that found a large variance in RMR changes between different twin pairs but similarity within each pair. Genetics again. While some people may be able to lose weight by increasing their caloric expenditure by ramping up activity, others may lose far less or even maintain by performing the same amount of exercise.
So relying on the Stairmaster that tells you you've burned 500 calories in 45 minutes may give you a false sense of security. If we're unable to increase our metabolism as much as we'd like by doing aerobic exercise, why should we do it? Well, it is undeniably beneficial for our cardiovascular system, which is important, but doing too much may be counterproductive in terms of weight loss. Is there any kind of physical activity that does help prevent weight gain as we age? Resistance or strength training increases muscle mass, which increases RMR. Exercise also improves insulin sensitivity. I'm still doing the Ellen Barrett workouts I referenced in my previous post on aging, and they all have a strength-training component regardless of whether weights are used.
In terms of how to eat when doing resistance training, the classic approach is to have a high-protein meal immediately after working out in order to maximize muscle growth. However, Bill Lagakos over at the Calories Proper website offers an alternative idea: Fuel up with protein prior to working out so that the body has time to break it down into amino acids that will be available at the precise time the body needs them most. I like this approach myself and have always eaten prior to working out, even before reading Bill's great rationale for doing so.
Although losing fat rather than muscle becomes more difficult as we get older, following a very-low-carb diet may be the best way to achieve this. There is evidence that restricting carbohydrates to ketogenic levels (less than 50 grams per day) can preserve lean body mass during weight loss. When three 1800-calorie, low-carbohydrate diets (containing 30 grams, 60 grams, and 100 grams) were compared over a nine-week period, subjects following the 30-gram diet experienced the greatest retention of muscle tissue. For anyone already following a low-carb diet but having trouble losing weight, check out my recent Answers.com article to read about potential causes for your stall.
While it's nice to dream about, there's unfortunately no way to stop the aging process. However, we can at least try to slow it down somewhat and stay as healthy as possible through the transition. And I firmly believe that carbohydrate restriction coupled with right type of exercise can make a world of difference in this regard.
* Consult your doctor prior to starting a low-carbohydrate diet or engaging in physical activity.
1. Gkogkolou P, et al. Advanced glycation end products: Key players in skin aging? Dermatoendocrinol 2012 Jul 1; 4(3):259-70
2. Nagata C, et al. Association of dietary fat, vegetables, and antioxidant micronutrients with skin aging in Japanese women. Br J Nutr 2010 May;103(10):1493-8
3. Bouchard C, et al. The response to exercise with constant energy intake in identical twins. Obes Res 1994, 2(5):400-410
4. Young CM, et al. Effect of body composition and other parameters in obese young men of carbohydrate level of reduction diet. Am J Clin Nutr 1971, 24(3):290-296
Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE