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How to slow aging: Full-body exercise is key after 40, longevity expert says

Even people who are fit and eat well notice changes after 40, she says. This is how she keeps the body feeling young.
Miranda Esmonde-White, center, leads a workout that she says engages all of the body's 650 muscles and 360 joints.
Miranda Esmonde-White, center, leads a workout that she says engages all of the body's 650 muscles and 360 joints.Courtesy Essentrics
/ Source: TODAY

Miranda Esmonde-White doesn’t look or move like a typical 70-year-old.

The former ballerina credits it all to exercise, but not the way most people think of it. There’s no need for treadmills, elliptical machines, aerobics classes, weights or yoga — all of which can lead to injuries and unnecessary stress on the joints, she believes.

When Esmonde-White sees fitness buffs damaging their knees or otherwise hurting themselves while exercising, she said she thinks of them as “brainwashed.”

Instead, the “Aging Backwards” author prescribes a full-body routine that uses all of a person’s 650 muscles and 360 joints in one low-impact workout. She demonstrates the moves, which she calls the  Essentrics technique, in her “Classical Stretch” series on PBS.

“People want to fix aging with creams and surgery, but I’m more interested in the fundamentals,” Esmonde-White, who lives in Montreal, Quebec, told TODAY.

“There’s a turning point for everybody who turns 40," she said. "There’s a decision that you have to make and that is: Are you going to make an effort for the rest of your life to do some exercise to keep the muscle cells from atrophying prematurely?”

Esmonde-White shared her philosophy and health routine with TODAY:

Why do people start to feel the effects of aging at 40?

Even people who are fit, eat well and do everything right notice that, at 40, things change. The science of this trigger is not out there yet, but after 40, it’s hard to burn the candle at both ends.

Can we control this process?

Yes, we really can. It’s all about our muscle cells. They keep us young because they house mitochondria, which are colloquially referred to as the furnaces that burn the fuel that gives us energy. Any time we move, we have to call upon energy to make that happen. The mitochondria wake up and burn some fuel.

But people are sitting so much — they’re sedentary. When you’re not calling up the mitochondria to deliver energy to you, then you’re tired, you don’t want to exercise. But you have to understand exercise gives you energy, not depletes you of it.

I ask people, "What part of your body don’t you want?" Then, you realize that every single muscle counts. Each one needs to stay equally vibrant and alive.

What’s the best way to exercise?

Any exercise is better than doing nothing, but many people over 40 overdo it and get injured. They’re told “no pain, no gain,” which is an extremely ridiculous, stupid and irresponsible mantra.

A lot of injuries also come from yoga. That should not be. Fitness should not make you unfit.

Why are we training to be super athletes when we don’t have the life of a super athlete? We should be training to be somewhere in the middle of our muscular capabilities, not to the edge, like a ballerina or a football player.

I prescribe a full-body dynamic stretch workout that’s slow, safe and doesn’t stress any joints. It can be done in 22 minutes. You’re not putting any weight on your wrist, you’re not holding a pose, you’re always in motion. We're trying to never stop moving.

I do huge sweeping movements while standing that pump blood through the body. I work big body parts and little body parts. The focus is on lengthening muscles. We never use weights and people get toned because your bones are a weight.

What is your diet routine?

I don’t eat meat, but I eat fish. I don’t eat dairy because it doesn’t suit my body. I eat lots of vegetables and fruits.

I don’t count calories, but I have to be careful with my weight. I love sweets so I have to watch myself all the time — it’s a battle that goes on.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.