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Since I live in New York City, I usually prefer walking to the gym on my workout days rather than taking a cab or subway. This allows me to build another dimension of my fitness plan into my daily routine: as I've stated in the past, brisk walking outdoors is one of the best things you can do for your body and state of mind. It stimulates the senses and creates an inner energy.



Usually, I walk at a very fast pace for about 25 minutes or what turns out to be about 32 blocks. This little ritual helps me in many ways. For one, it gives my lungs a chance to breathe clean air, since most of my journey is done through Central Park. No matter who you are or where you live, walking out in nature is better than walking on a treadmill, breathing in the stale recycled air of a crowded building.
This walk I take also helps my cardiovascular system by elevating my heart rate, since I take long and deliberate (but quick) strides. As I pace through the park, I also meditate on the beauty of my surroundings — tall, lush trees, beautiful fields and meadows, meticulously kept gardens, the majestic Manhattan skyline, and the many bridges, stone walls, buildings and fountains that architects have constructed over the city's long history. In the park, I truly have a chance to connect to nature, as well as to my physical and spiritual self.

Lastly, as I approach the gym, I begin to visualize how the workout will go — which muscles I will be concentrating on. In short, walking is a great ritual, multidimensional in its benefits, as you can see. I advise participating in a good, rigorous walk in nature 2-3 times a week.

During this ritual I also get to see other people enjoying themselves — rollerblading, running, biking, skateboarding...there is energy all around. The other morning, I slowed for just a moment to observe a group of school children playing just behind one of the art museums. It was obviously a class outing and the kids were just bursting with energy. I mean, every single child was at full-throttle nonstop. Not a single still or quiet body in the lot. Running, jumping, arms flailing in the air, screaming...aimless, chasing bodies in chaotic patterns. An absolute frenzy of motion.

As I continued along, I started asking myself a few simple questions about what I had observed, and what the physical and possible metaphysical components behind the answers might be. The first, most obvious question was, where does all that energy come from in young children? Certainly all those youngsters could not have been on special "energy" diets, like so many adults try. I mean, most kids I know eat very poorly: Candy, soda, pizza, hot dogs and ice cream in large quantities, every day. These choices would add up to the antithesis of an energetic day for an adult.

Secondly, why weren't at least a few of these kids off in a corner somewhere being still? Certainly, amongst 50-60 adults you would find at least a handful acting far less energized.

To answer the first question, we have to refer to the group of aging mechanisms and their counterparts, the biological markers of aging that I have written of so often. What is the number one known mechanism behind cellular level aging? Insulin resistance. Remember that insulin resistance is the hardening of the cell membrane. Insulin, primarily a storage hormone, loses its ability to store nutrients in the cell as the cell becomes more and more rigid, and less penetrable. This occurs over time, primarily because of insulin itself. (Saturated fat is also a key contributor).

Unfortunately, if we overeat or eat too many high-glycemic carbohydrates, a larger amount of insulin is secreted, both to store extra calories and balance blood glucose. As we do this continually, our blood sugar levels become disrupted because excessive amounts of food (and especially, refined food) push insulin levels up, while constantly driving blood sugar down. Energy is slowly lost.

In an almost unconscious (yet feeble) attempt to restore blood glucose, most people reach for higher-glycemic carbohydrates, which in turn induces the pancreas to make more insulin, driving blood sugar levels down even more. This becomes a vicious cycle — energy is never fully restored. This is why so many people in our country become hypoglycemic and/or then diabetic long before other aging markers occur. By this stage of the game, cultivating energy is a confusing, if not lost, art.

If you are an average American, eating lots of food (and lots of carbohydrates) over the course of 40 years or so will begin a cascading effect with other hormonal systems; feedback loops in the hypothalamus are negatively influenced by high glucose and/or high insulin levels. The hypothalamus is responsible for messages sent to the pituitary gland (amongst others), which controls the regulation of growth hormone and messages sent to the testes to secrete testosterone. The more these feedback loops are negatively affected by insulin and/or higher levels of glucose, the faster you will lose hormonal communication. The less hormonal communication you have, the faster you lose precious energy and speed up aging.

Not only won't growth hormone, testosterone and other important hormones be made in abundance as they were at the youthful stage, but what little is made will not have the ability to penetrate cells (which have become hormone resistant). Cyclic AMP, the important "second messenger" with the special "code" to unlock cell walls, will not be able to perform its task as well because of high levels of insulin and/or blood glucose. Get the picture? In part, we lose energy because of how we have chosen to eat. As Jerry Seinfeld once said in his stand-up routine, "I had one thought when I was young: Get candy!" But this has negative consequences down the road.

As I continued my walk, I realized that if these (and all) children were taught about the real facts of nutrition and its influences on the body, they would be able to keep this type of energy a lot longer — assuming they chose the proper foods and quantities. Unfortunately, most of us do not learn about the intricacies and scientific aspects of nutrition until we ourselves start losing energy and questioning our own habits. Much of the damage has already been done by then. Of those 60 or so 10-year-olds I saw that day, many will have severe health problems by the time they reach my age (early 40s), and a good percentage of those health problems will be influenced by how those children eat over the course of their lives. A good deal of that precious energy will be taken away by poor eating habits. This is an absolute abomination, because scientist and nutritionists understand these aging mechanisms very well; yet, most of these kids (and their parents) will be influenced more by clever marketing techniques than they will by obscure scientific facts.

There was another lesson learned from this walk: Energy, although primarily cultivated within (with proper nutrition and, to a lesser degree, ones state of mind), can be contagious. The fact that all these children were so engaged leads me to believe that outdoor recreation with others is not only fun — it is critical. Vitality is both physiologically and psychologically individual and communal. This is why I am such a big advocate of team sports, just like I am an advocate of working out with weights.

The lesson here is simple: If you want to have youthful energy, eat a balanced diet with low-glycemic carbohydrates, walk in nature, train with weights, and find yourself a group of people (or a team) to run around and have innocent fun with. Your glory days will come marching back.

One other thing: If you are a parent, or thinking of being a parent, read as much as you can about nutrition and exercise. These two dimensions will have the biggest influence on your child's energy levels over the course of his/her lifetime. Perhaps there will be a day when a 40-year-old will have the endless energy of a child, thanks to anti-aging technology.

- Taken from Exercise For Men Only (Paul Burke's Over-40 Fitness Column)