Miranda Esmonde-White has the kind of body most 30-somethings would kill for, never mind her baby boomer contemporaries. And while such smooth, glowing skin and flexibility is surprising in a woman of her vintage, that’s not the most outrageous thing about her. No, the most outrageous thing about Miranda Esmonde-White is that she believes it is possible to reverse the aging process. Seriously.
Joining a growing chorus of health professionals who view aging and its deleterious effects as disease, not inevitability, Esmonde-White lays out her theory in a new book. Both a manifesto for healthy living and a promotional tool for her exercise program, Essentrics, Aging Backwards starts by outlining the “the myth of aging.”
But the most important question about Esmonde-White’s method– does it work? – is hard to answer conclusively. Medical endorsement for the book falls short of outright supporting the myth of aging, but McGill professor and aging specialist Dr. Claudio Cuello asserts that “her fundamental preaching is correct,” noting that “Miranda explores a large variety of physiological mechanisms that will help contribute to maintaining a youthful body as we inevitably enter into later stages of life.”
Certainly, if Miranda Esmonde-White is anything to go by, it’s worth a try. Want to start now? We caught up with Esmonde-White, who is also a former ballerina with the National Ballet of Canada and host of PBS’s longstanding Classical Stretch, for her advice on growing old without aging.
Here are her top tips:
It’s easier to halt the aging process than it is to reverse it, says Esmonde-White.
“Baby Boomers, they can turn it around, but it takes longer,” she says, explaining that it’s much harder to reverse a 30-year-old injury, for example, than it is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Always combine strengthening with lengthening
“Go into a gym and look around and see the age of the trainers, and you’re going to see all the trainers are usually under 40…Trainers love teaching; fitness teachers love their jobs, but they can’t do them if they’re injured. And if you contract your muscles, you overdo it, which is what trainers are doing. They end up injuring themselves so they can’t do it anymore.” To avoid straining muscles, Esmonde-White combines strengthening exercises with lengthening, resulting in a leaner, more flexible physique. Naturally Esmonde-White recommends Essentrics, but yoga and Pilates are also celebrated for simultaneously stretching and strengthening.
Joint damage is one of aging’s most pernicious villains, and force of impact is its enabling sidekick. That’s why you rarely see ballet dancers or football players working past the age of 40, says Esmonde-White.
“No matter how well trained you are…the human body is not designed to take impact,” she says. Instead of looking to athletes as inspiration, we should see them as cautionary tales. Overtraining and getting injured through high-impact sports are habits we have to start breaking, says Esmonde-White.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we get injured anyway. That’s a normal part of life, but instead of working around the pain, we need to focus on healing. Esmonde-White says that most of her clients in their 50s, 60s and 70s are carrying pain from an unhealed injury they got in their 20s or 30s. “You’re making allowances for it by using other muscles, so then you’re going to have side effects. And it unbalances the natural chain of your body, so as you age it’s going to cause you more problems.”
Achieve cardio with big movements
Most of us know that cardio exercises are important, but Esmonde-White’s model is different. Naturally, she stays away from high-impact movements, focusing on large, full body motions to pump the blood through the vascular system. “The muscles are doing the job that God created them to do, which is the other side of the cardio, the cardio vascular,” she says. “If the heart has to do all the work, it will get very, very tired and the vascular muscles will get very weak…but if you use big, huge body movements, then your vascular system…is moving the blood so the cardiac muscle [isn’t] overworked.” A typical Essentrics sequence might involve making large arm circles overhead, then reaching those circles to the ground to get blood pumping from tip to toe. Best of all, says Esmonde-White, all that blood flow is also flushing toxins and feeding your skin fresh nutrients.
Keeping your body fit is important, but to age well, your brain needs to be in top form, too. Esmonde-White recommends complex movements to challenge your noodle and stave off dementia. “Instead of just walking, which is simple body movement, you have to move around into a space and do something that makes you have to think…that stimulates the brain and seems to slow down dementia.” Sports can be good for this, but Esmonde-White recommends dance – which has been studied for its potential to stave off Alzheimer’s disease.
You might not think your stomachaches and back pain are related, but Esmonde-White cites poor posture as a contributor to all manner of internal organ complaints. Anything you can do to create space in your spine will reduce compression on your internal organs, while exercises that strengthen your core will give your intestines something to push against when they’re eliminating waste.
“The human body has reflexes to protect itself, so if you’re lazy and you do the workout, the body is happy and it will let you achieve more than if you push it hard,” says Esmonde-White. Be consistent about your exercise schedule (she prescribes 30-minutes a day of complex, full body movements that stretch and strengthen), but lazy in its execution. The relaxation you’ll feel as a result will keep you young in body and spirit.
So, now that there might be some strategies to turn the clock back, where do you turn? Well, Aging Backwards is available at most major book retailers, while Classical Stretch, featuring Miranda Esmonde-White’s method can be found on PBS or streamed online. Or if you want to keep it simple, just take these tips and create workouts you can do from home. Sometimes feeling younger can be as simple as getting out of your seat.