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From The Desk of Clarence Bass

Cooper Clinic Physician Fights Aging
 with Diet and Exercise

It was 12 years ago that the Dr. Arno Jensen first invited me to the Cooper Clinic in Dallas for testing. I was 50 and Arnie was 59. David Prokop went with me to write an article about the exam for Muscle & Fitness. Daveís piece, which appeared in the May 1989 issue, included a sidebar titled, "Dr. Arno Jensen: Practicing What He Preaches." The sidebar heading was a perfect fit. It was true then, and itís true now. (Editor: Prokopís article, which includes the sidebar, is on our home page under the title "Fit at 50.")

Arnie has been training hard, weights and aerobics, and watching his diet for decades Ė and it shows. He always looks lean and fit. I donít know his percent body fat, but itís clearly quite low. Heís held the Cooper Clinic treadmill record for his age group three separate times -- his best time is a phenomenal 32 minutes.

The Cooper Clinic, founded by Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, is best known in the area of aerobic exercise. As many readers know, Dr. Cooper coined the term aerobics. Arnie Jensen, who was part owner of a Nautilus facility in Iowa before he came to the Cooper Clinic, was largely responsible for introducing strength training at the Cooper Aerobics Center. Thanks to Arnie, the Cooper Wellness Program now includes strength training along with aerobics; their onsite Fitness Center now includes a fabulous weight training area.

Arnie and his wife Joan also have a fully equipped gym at their ranch in East Texas. When I visited with them at the ranch earlier this year, I had the opportunity to see Arnie do a weight workout. He didnít tell me what body parts he was going to train, and I kept waiting for him to stop -- I fully expected him to stop at least three different times -- but he kept moving quickly from exercise to exercise, until he had trained his whole body. He never let up, putting maximum effort into each exercise. I didnít time it, but Iíd guess that the session lasted about 30 minutes -- half an hour of high-intensity effort without a pause! Believe me, I was impressed. It took tremendous drive and stamina to do that workout. It would have killed most 30-year-olds, and for a man 71 years old it was truly remarkable. Arnie does indeed practice what he preaches.

Dr. Jensen squatting in the course of the workout described above. He pre-exhausted his quads with leg extensions immediately before doing partial squats; an old football injury prevents him from doing full squats. (Photo by Jim Stevens)

Needless to say, I thought of Dr. Jensen immediately when I needed someone to speak to the concerns many traditional doctors have about the more aggressive branch of anti-aging medicine discussed in the excellent article by Dr. Dave Chauvin, which was posted here on Sept. 1 (Article #53, "Anti-aging Medicine: Wave of the Future, or Wrong Turn?"). Dr. Chauvinís article and the one by Dr. Jensen which appears below provide an interesting counterpoint: high tech versus the tried and true. They give anyone serious about staying young and healthy as long as possible plenty to think about. Enjoy.

Anti-aging Medicine and Hormonal Supplementation

By Arno L. Jensen, M.D.

I appreciate the opportunity to express my views on anti-aging medicine and hormonal supplementation.

I have been practicing medicine for 44 years. For the past 19 years, I have been at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas. My current big interest in medicine is wellness and fitness.

At the age of 40, while still in family practice, I experienced chest pains while rushing into the hospital to deliver a baby, and decided from that point forward to be very proactive as far as my own health is concerned. That experience made me realize that my health is far and away my greatest asset. Since that time, I have done extensive "research" on my own body, trying different forms of aerobic and strength exercise and different dietary programs. Now, 31 years later, I am convinced that I have definitely slowed my aging; I have also been able to slow the decline of my testosterone and growth hormone levels. I attribute much of this to a well balanced strength and aerobic conditioning program along with good nutrition, adequate sleep, and reasonable control of stress. At 71, Iím stronger in many areas than I was when I was playing competitive sports in high school and college. This is particularly true in the all-important core muscle exercises, such as squats and deadlifts.

I have also been fortunate to avoid illness. Believe it or not, I have not missed one day from work because of illness in the 44 years Iíve been practicing medicine. I have also been able to avoid medications that often produce unpleasant side effects. For example, it is well known that many anti-hypertensive medications as well as antidepressants, diuretics and others have impotence as one of their side effects.

I have been able to lose fat and add muscle with my exercise and dietary program. For the last 15 years, I have been able to keep my body fat well below 15 percent, which we here at the Cooper Clinic consider to be in the athletic range. I try to motivate all of my male and female patients to keep their percent body fat in the athletic range, regardless of age. As I said, for males this is 15 percent or less; for females itís 22 percent or less. In almost all cases, I have found that this can be accomplished entirely with proper exercise and smart eating.

Low body fat and added muscle mass are important because, as Evans and Rosenberg documented in their landmark book Biomarkers [Editor: see our products page], those who are lean and strong not only look younger than their years, they are in fact younger. We see this every day here at the Cooper Clinic. Everything else being equal, the stronger athlete is the better athlete. And I believe we are all athletes to a certain degree.

Fitness comes from the quality of the workout, not quantity. This is true not only for the strength portion of the workout, but also for the aerobic portion. As suggested above, the key to strength training is to emphasize the large core muscles of the body instead of spending a lot of time on the smaller muscles, such as the biceps. If one does a good job strengthening the core muscles, the smaller muscles will automatically grow and become stronger.

For best results, workouts should be relatively short and focused, which is another way of saying high in quality. Overly long workouts, strength or aerobic, can cause the testosterone in your blood to decline. You should be able to complete your strength workouts in no more than 40 minutes. For aerobic workouts, 30 minutes is about right; you can become amazingly fit and be in the upper five percent level of aerobic fitness with good quality sessions lasting no longer than half an hour.

We canít stop aging, but I am convinced that we can slow it down. In a manner of speaking, one can narrow the aperture of the hourglass and slow the fall of the sand. Our goal should be to have our health span equal our lifespan. Too many of us linger on in poor health, while the ideal should be to stay active and healthy for most of our years, and when the decline comes it should be precipitous and short. In my experience, most of us can achieve this by following a healthy lifestyle, without the aid of hormonal supplementation.

It has been so rewarding for me to see patients completely transform themselves with an excellent, well balanced exercise program and optimal nutrition. On the other hand, it is very frustrating to see people accelerate their aging because they refused to practice a healthy lifestyle.

Without question, there is a drop in the level of hormones, such as human growth hormone and testosterone, as we age. Usually, however, the reason for a greater than normal decline remains unclear. Many things can be responsible. Physical inactivity, diet, medications, smoking and excess alcohol use can all be factors as well as genetics in causing an accelerated decline in hormone levels.

For some people, there is a place for hormone supplementation, but I have rarely found that to be the case in my practice. In fact, Iíll bet I can count the cases on the fingers of one hand were I found that hormonal supplementation was necessary. My concern is that too frequently hormone supplementation is given without adequate screening and evaluation, and without sufficient concern for the possible harmful side effects.

Some of the long-term side effects of growth hormone supplementation can be high incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome, joint discomfort and possible blood sugar problems. Testosterone supplementation can also produce dangerous side effects, particularly if administered to men who have normal levels. If your levels are normal and you add exogenous testosterone, you can stimulate or accelerate prostate tumors, both benign and malignant. You can also suppress natural testosterone production.

At this point in time, we simply donít know the long-term side effects of hormone supplementation, especially for people with normal levels for their age. I recognize that hormone supplementation is an area that should be explored; we need bold practitioners who are willing to break new ground. But I worry about the legal risk to physicians who prescribe hormone supplementation without adequate evaluation and follow-up.

Based on my own case, my long clinical experience and the concerns expressed above, I encourage my patients to rely on a well-balanced exercise program, strength and endurance, along with a very healthy diet. For the vast majority of people, this will give the benefits of hormonal supplementation therapy, without the long-term risks and expense.

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