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  • Dr. Erik Gullen

Is the fountain of youth a myth?

And what does it have to do with toenails?

We all know someone who, year by year, birthday by birthday, doesn’t age.

And we hate them for it.

Okay, hate is a strong word. But still- how do they do it? Is it genetics? Is it exercise? Why are some 60-something year-olds running iron-mans while others are barely able to run to CVS to pick up their eight prescriptions? Why are some mentally sharp as a tack while others struggle to remember their grandkids’ birthdays? These questions can be frustrating! If you’re struggling to age well, you’re in good company. Humans throughout history have looked for answers about their own mortality.

Check out this painting. It’s called The Fountain of Youth by Lucas Cranach The Elder.

See how the left side of the painting depicts sodden-faced, droopy older women? They’re literally being carted in, presumably because they can’t walk. Then on the right side, youthful women emerge from the waters able not only to walk, but dance! This painting is from 1546. That’s nearly 500 years ago!

In other words, your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandma was just as interested in the best night-time cold cream and arthritis remedies as you are. But forget about mere artwork or skin routines. Entire religions, thousands of years old, have emerged from the same question:

How do I live forever?

The answer to that question, however, is not the subject of this blog. Nor is it the question you should be asking!

Before you look forward and ask how you are going to live longer, look backwards and ask yourself, “How am I still alive at all?” Better yet, ask yourself how often you cut your toenails.

If you’re like most people, you probably give them a trim every couple weeks. If you’re fancy, or inflexible, or both, you might even get pedicures. It’s almost too obvious to mention, but the reason you have to keep trimming the darn things, of course, is that they keep regenerating. Again, and again, and again. At every age and stage of your life, they’re regenerating.

And that regeneration, not just of your toenails, but muscles, bones, brain- every tissue in your body- is why you are still alive at all. In fact, your entire skeleton is completely new every 17 years! If you want to keep living, regeneration is the thing you need to get very, very good at. It’s the hidden talent of that person who doesn’t age (remember, the one you kind of hate a little?!).

Even though some folks’ genetics make them naturally better at regeneration, it is something everyone can get better at. Even you! So how do we get better at regenerating?

Aging and Genetics

First of all, we need to acknowledge the genetic component. Your genetic blueprint is much like an architect’s blueprint. On paper, everything is neat, orderly- nearly perfect. Measurements and edges are precise. Every dot connects.

Still, just as ink fades and paper frays, our genes deteriorate over time. Specifically, a part of DNA called telomeres lose their length the more we age. This can be accelerated by things like heavy alcohol or drug abuse.

However, our genes, regardless of age, are rarely the limiting factor in how well we regenerate. Most of us can rest assured that our genes are more than adequate to supply the right blueprint for a lifetime of health. If you’re worried that your genes or family history of disease is going to hold you back from the life you want, I highly encourage you to have a conversation with a doctor of physical therapy at Village Physical Therapy in Glendora, which can be booked by filling out the form below:

You’ll be encouraged by success stories of folks like you and will learn what you can do to take charge of your health.

In the meantime, one of the best things you can do right now to preserve your telomeres is get enough sleep. We recommend three steps towards better sleep:

1.) Consistency

Keep your bedtime and wake time within the same hours consistently. This will help your circadian rhythm stay steady, maximizing the amount of stress-relieving hormones and neurochemicals your brain releases. Even if there is a day of the week where your schedule varies significantly, just do your best to keep the rest of the week consistent.

2.) Caffeine

Avoid caffeine 12 hours before you go to bed. Our society loves coffee and tea, and it's okay for you to love them too, just do it 12 hours before you plan to hit the sack. This will give your body time to metabolize caffeine from your system so it doesn’t keep you awake. Even if you feel sleepy, the presence of caffeine in your system can reduce the quality of your sleep!

3.) Clear

Rinse your sinuses and use nasal strips to keep night-time breathing free and easy. There’s a massive connection between the quality of your breath and the quality of your restorative sleep, just ask the 10-30% of Americans who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. The truth is that everyone can benefit from clearer nasal passages at night, because nasal breathing helps move the nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic, aka fight or flight to rest and digest. Personally I like to use a brand called Xclear for sinus rinsing for convenience, but many prefer the traditional Neti Pot method. Most brands of nasal opening strips work well, but try a few and see which feels best on your unique schnoz!

Aging and Nutrition

Second, let’s talk about building materials. Just like home-builders need high quality bricks and mortar, our bodies need all sorts of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and other micronutrients.

Sadly, this is where the standard American diet begins to fall short. Most people know that fried-foods and sugary drinks are bad, but don’t realize toxic oils and sugars are hidden in all sorts of “healthy foods.”

Furthermore, certain building blocks, like Omega-3 fatty acids are all but absent. Imagine the builder needs a certain type of pipe to install plumbing, but it never arrives. Perhaps it’s stuck on a barge outside the port of Los Angeles because of some global pandemic. In any case, it’s not in the builder’s hands. Other materials arrive, but they come bundled with toxins, allergens, and other anti-nutrients. Think of it like a builder receiving a shipment of wooden 2x4s only to discover they’ve been exposed to termites and rot. This is what it’s like to eat factory-produced bread full of preservatives and additives rather than home-made, fermented sourdough bread. Similarly, imagine instead of receiving actual hardwood 2x4s, the builder received IKEA style particle boards. They have some of the qualities of wood, but are far more fragile. This is what it’s like to eat cheap vegetable oils instead of real fats like pure olive oil.

The bottom line is that our bodies need the right building materials.

Fortunately, with the right knowledge this problem is highly solvable. If you’re worried you aren’t getting the right nutritional building blocks in your diet, or if you’re suffering from weight gain, low energy, or digestive issues, I highly encourage you to consider our Accelerate Nutrition Coaching Program. You can find out more about that program by filling out the form below.

You’ll be encouraged with success stories as well as gain clarity on where you stand nutritionally.

In the meantime, here are two of the best nutrition hacks to get your started.

  1. Ruthlessly eliminate vegetable oils and sugar from your diet.

  2. Obviously this includes foods like fast food French fries and sodas, but have you ever read the ingredients on “healthy” products like salad-dressing and yogurt? They’re loaded with added vegetable oils and sugars that can turn your metabolism into a train-wreck. Reading ingredient labels and switching out staples in your diet can be overwhelming if you try to do it all at once, so simply set a goal of changing out one food per week. Get in the habit of picking up containers and reading the ingredient labels. If you see one of the 3 Cs and/or 3 Ss Oils (Corn, Cottonseed, Canola, Soy, Safflower, Sunflower) on something you eat regularly, make a point to find a product the next time you go to the store without these. Similarly, look on the ingredient label for “added sugars,” particularly on products that aren’t desserts, like yogurt or tomato sauce. Make a point to pick up a few products on the shelf next time you are at the grocery store and select one without added sugar. Since added sugar is used to mask the poor taste of processed foods, the quality and taste of the new product will often be better!

  3. Take a high quality Omega-3 supplement

  4. Omega 3s are essential for the elimination of chronic inflammation and proper regeneration, yet very few Americans get enough in their diets. Those who do supplement often mistakenly take poor quality oils that can actually do more harm than good. We recommend Carlson’s Cod Liver Oil.

Aging and Exercise

Third, we’ve got to take all those materials and build them according to the genetic blue-print.

This is the point where most people fail, and the reason aging-gracefully seems reserved for only the lucky few. But it doesn’t have to be! Before we go any further, let’s go back to our building analogy.

Have you ever seen a kitchen remodel? It’s a heck of a process. First the old kitchen has to be demolished. Lots of dust. Lots of mess. It’s not fun to live in the house during this time!

Regenerating your body also has a messy phase, because old, worn-out cells must be cleaned out and removed. This requires inflammation. Inflammation is often seen in a negative way. That’s because it's not usually well controlled. A huge part of controlling inflammation comes from the nutrition we discussed previously. That said, even good inflammation is uncomfortable, like living in the same house as a kitchen remodel! Sometimes we’re so afraid of discomfort that we forget it can be part of growth!

Second, the new kitchen must be built. This starts with laying out spacing and lines according to the design blueprint! Imagine if the lines and measurements weren’t straight or accurate, it would be impossible to build counters and cabinets correctly. This is exactly what happens to most people’s bodies during regeneration- the body doesn’t have straight lines and measurements with which to guide it. The difference between a kitchen and your body here is that a contractor makes straight lines with levelers, rulers, and other tools. The way your body makes straight lines? It needs movement and it needs strain. The best way to ensure getting the right movement and strain to regenerate your joints is by choosing the right exercises and doing them regularly. The right exercises utilize a joint's full range of motion along with enough strain to stimulate change.

Unfortunately, most people miss out on this

Some are told there’s no point exercising their joints because they’re already arthritic or bone on bone! This is often the case when physicians tell their patients they should just wait around for a joint replacement, or that “people your age” should just take it easy and accept aches and pains. For others, even when exercise is used, it falls short because it doesn’t use a joint’s full range of motion or it isn’t straining enough. This often happens when physical therapists are too cautious in their approach because they don’t understand how healing works or they don’t believe their patients are fully committed to a healthy lifestyle that supports real exercise.

Finally, there is the opposite problem: “Too much too soon” exercise is given. The body isn’t ready, gets injured, and then enters into a vicious cycle of pain and dysfunction. This often happens when someone sees an over-ambitious personal trainer or simply tries to get back in shape by doing what they did in high school or college. After a few filed attempts and a few punishing injuries, most people will feel defeated and give up for good. But you don’t have to!

You don’t have to miss out any longer...

At Village, we’ve designed a comprehensive program of 12 exercises that help regenerate every joint, muscle, and nerve in the body.

The secret to the program is it's structured, methodical approach that helps anyone at any level start from a level appropriate to them and move at the right pace forward.

You can find out more about those exercises here. Whether you work with a doctor of physical therapy, a personal trainer, or both at Village Fitness and Physical Therapy in Glendora, you’ll be in good hands.

In the meantime, here are three exercises from our 12 Standards that almost anyone can start with no equipment. Please note that you should always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program!

1. Squat

Speaking of the fountain of youth, I often tell my clients and patients that doing squats is like sipping from the fountain of youth. That’s because there is no other single movement that uses as many muscles, joints, and nerves in one full body exercise. The squat can help the foot heal from plantar fasciitis, the knee and hip from arthritis, the spine from disc and nerve problems, and even the upper body from bad posture!

If it's been a while since you’ve exercised regularly, the best place to start working on squats is with a sit to stand. To perform, simply sit in a chair, stand up, and sit down again. Start by accumulating 10 of these per day.

Once you’ve mastered the sit-to-stand, try holding a deep squat for up to one minute, once a day. To perform, hold on to something sturdy in front of you, such as a metal railing. Lower your hips down as close to your ankles as you can, even if it’s not very close! You should only lower as far as you can without pain. Once you’re here, try to relax, breathe in your belly, calm your face, and be patient. You’re doing wonders for your body!

2. Sidebend

The sidebend is super important for releasing stiff low backs and hips and increasing core strength. It will also make breathing easier by loosening up the sides of your ribcage, giving your lungs a bunch of new real estate to fill with fresh oxygen.

To start, stand with your right foot a few feet in front of your left foot. Keep both knees straight with thigh muscles engaged. Place your right fingertips on your head. Kick your right hip out slightly. Finally, bend your torso gently toward your left, reaching your left finger tips towards the ground between your feet. Smoothly lift back up to the starting position, and you’ve just completed one repetition of the Sidebend!

It’s critical to start this one slow and comfortable, only increasing the depth of your bend as your body allows. This can take several weeks, so don’t rush! We recommend doing this for one set of ten repetitions daily to start.

3. Jefferson Curl

The Jefferson Curl is like penicillin for sciatica, night-time calf cramps, and neck/shoulder tension. It will also help you touch your toes again for the first time in years!

To start, stand up tall. Next, relax the muscles in your neck and shoulders with a big exhale that comes out as a sigh. Keep your thigh muscles engaged and knees straight. It may be difficult to relax one part of your body while stiffening another, but this is very good for your nervous system, so embrace the practice. Slowly round and stretch your spine, reaching towards your toes. Go as low as you can without any pain or discomfort. Double check that your neck and shoulders are still relaxed at the bottom! Return to standing slowly and gently, trying to be mindful of each vertebrae moving. That’s one repetition of the Jefferson curl!

This is another one where it's critical to start slow and comfortable, especially if it's been a while since you’ve exercised or touched your toes. Like the Sidebend, we recommend starting with just ten repetitions per day. Over several weeks, you should feel your flexibility and comfort level increasing

If you’re feeling the effects of aging, take courage

Remember that if your toenails can regenerate, so can the rest of your body! It’s all about eating and moving in a way that lets your genes do their thing. It might take a decade, but the best time to start rebuilding your skeleton from the inside out is today! There may be no such thing as the Fountain of Youth, but if you live near Glendora, CA, we’ve got the tools and experience to help you stay youthful even as you mature into life’s later seasons. Fill out the form below to inquire about our programs and restore your fountain of youth!

Yours for a life alive,

Dr. Erik

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