MINDSET – Road Less Traveled

Turning Back the Clock With Fitness Guru Jillian Michaels

By Linda Childers

As a coach on the hit television show “The Biggest Loser,” Jillian Michaels established a reputation as one of the country’s foremost fitness experts—and galvanized audiences with a direct (even in-your-face) approach to her clients that broke the perky, pretty female fitness mold. Her status was further cemented with her eight best-selling books and 25 exercise videos that have taught millions how to transform their bodies through good nutrition and movement.

Now Michaels is going after aging with her signature approach. In her new book “The 6 Keys: Unlock Your Genetic Potential for Ageless Strength, Health, and Beauty” (Little Brown, Spark, December 2018), Michaels shows how to get metabolism, damaged macromolecules, epigenetics, inflammation, stress adaption and telomeres—the triggers of aging—to work for you rather than against you.

“Longevity is an exciting area of research that’s helping us to understand not only how and why we age but also how to slow the aging process and avoid age-related illnesses,” Michaels says. “Aging gracefully can be keeping yourself in fantastic health, inside and out, for a long time.”

Mastering the right kind of exercise

While regular exercise has been shown to help prevent or manage a wide range of health conditions, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, depression, arthritis and more, Michaels says how you exercise also affects how you age.

“Recent research has demonstrated the age-defying effects of high-intensity interval training, where short bursts of vigorous exercise alternate with brief periods of exercising at a slower pace,” Michaels says. “Although strength training is good for building muscle mass and strength, HIIT helps to reduce abdominal fat and insulin resistance while also preventing age-related loss of muscle tissue and preserving bone health.”

For a good balance, she recommends doing a 20- to 40-minute metabolic circuit training (MCT) session four times a week that combines circuit training and resistance training. A sample regimen might include focusing on “push” muscles (chest, shoulders, triceps, quadriceps and core) on Mondays and Wednesdays and “pull” muscles (back, biceps, hamstrings, glutes and core) on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with short HIIT intervals between MCT circuits.

Eating for longevity

While you may not have heard of telomeres, the end caps that protect our chromosomes, researchers have found their length can be a key indicator of how well a person is aging.

Telomeres naturally shorten as we age, but they also can be shortened by an unhealthy lifestyle, poor diet, lack of sleep and stress.

“As we age and our telomeres shorten, we begin to see gray hair and wrinkles,” Michaels says. “The danger is when our immune cells begin to die off and our risk of heart disease, diabetes, cognitive decline and other age-related health problems increases.”

Michaels explains that it’s possible to protect and lengthen telomeres through meditation, regular exercise and a healthy diet. Yet rather than embarking on the latest fad diet, she recommends eating clean and following a Mediterranean-style plan that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, seafood and extra-virgin olive oil.

Finding balance in your life

Despite being a personal trainer for more than 20 years, Michaels, 44, admits the current research on aging has inspired her to make changes in her own life.

“Much of the information I knew, but some of it, I didn’t,” she says. “For example, I never understood the importance of taking five to 10 minutes a day to meditate until I wrote this book.”

Like many busy professionals, Michaels used to think if she had free time, she could use it to accomplish more. Since starting a daily meditation practice, she has a better understanding of how taking time for herself helps maintain her overall health and well-being.

“Stress can weaken your immune system, wreak havoc on your endocrine system and contribute to serious health problems,” Michaels says. “I recommend starting with a five-minute meditation in the morning where you just breathe.”

Need some guidance? Michaels says there’s a ton of great Smartphone apps, including Headspace and Calm, that help promote relaxation.

“I’ve found meditating helps me to find clarity during those moments when I have a million different things running through my mind,” Michaels says. “Meditation has been shown not only to improve symptoms of stress-related conditions but also to help preserve your telomeres.”

Drinking in moderation for better health

Michaels says one of the most surprising things she learned while writing her new book is that alcohol can be beneficial when consumed in moderation and even offers some anti-aging health benefits. Some research has even shown that drinking alcohol in limited amounts also may ward off dementia.

“I used to say alcohol is horrible for weight loss, and while this is true, the resveratrol and antioxidants found in red wine provide anti-aging benefits and can protect our hearts,” Michaels says. “I recommend no more than two drinks a night, three times a week.”

Learning to supplement wisely

Although it’s preferable to get important nutrients from food sources, Michaels knows that’s not always possible. And while she takes supplements as part of her own health regimen, she recommends always consulting with a physician before starting supplements because some can interfere with medications.

To ensure you purchase high-quality supplements that contain the ingredients the label says they do and have been manufactured properly, look for verification from a third party, such as the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, NSF International and Consumerlab.com. Pharmaceutical-grade supplements are typically higher quality.

“First thing every morning, I take a probiotic,” Michaels says. “Then I alternate each day between clean fish and krill oil. I also use a collagen supplement mixed with alkaline water and an organic multivitamin.”

As we age, collagen production diminishes, she explains, so taking a supplement can promote a youthful complexion and also support joint and bone health. Fish oil supports immune, cardiovascular, joint, vision and metabolic function and has been shown to help with thinning hair.

In addition, Michaels uses a grass-fed whey protein powder with branched-chain amino acids that she puts in smoothies and oatmeal; a super-antioxidant blend; greens powder; and an adaptogenic herb blend.

Looking at environmental factors

Michaels says it’s important to look at what we put on the outside of our bodies, in addition to looking at what we put inside.

“Many aspects of the environment can affect aging,” she says. “Take under consideration the air you breathe and what you put on your skin.”

Michaels recommends using natural oils such as coconut and argan as facial moisturizers and improving indoor air quality by buying a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter that can help with allergies while also removing toxins from the environment.

“Getting houseplants and regularly keeping windows open in your home can also improve air quality indoors,” she says.

While she knows her new book covers a lot of information, Michaels encourages readers to take a holistic approach to eating right, exercising, mitigating stress and avoiding environmental factors as much as possible.

“For people who need a little extra help, the 6 Keys diet and fitness program are also available on the My Fitness App,” Michaels says. “While immortality is still out of reach, it’s possible to have more energy, get sick less often and age well, both inside and out.”

Video and photo credit: Empowered Media
Book cover: Little, Brown Spark


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Linda Childers

A San Francisco Bay Area native, Linda Childers loves nothing more than taking a hike with her two rescue dogs. A journalist specializing in health, fitness and celebrity profiles, Childers has been published in Arthritis Today, O, Allure, Playboy, Health Monitor, USA Today, The Washington Post, NBC News, CNN Money and many other national media outlets.