Feeling Good: It Starts at the Cellular Level

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If you’d first met Leo shortly before he died, you’d never guess he was 102. He still walked with a spring in his step, carried heavy bags of groceries, and was constantly on the move. What’s more, Leo never ever napped during the day. And, his cheeks were as pinchably round and rosy as ever!

Not so with Rosalie, 30 years younger. Her favorite activity is sitting in front of the TV, for hours on end, where she’ll often fall asleep, sometimes for long stretches. When Rosalie agrees to take a walk around the neighborhood with her husband, her pace is excruciatingly slow and cautious, and she starts to tire after a couple of blocks. She’s thinner, too, even though she isn’t dieting, and she’s definitely paler.

Why does one person, a centenarian at that, act so much younger than someone who’s actually young enough to be his daughter? Although Rosalie hasn’t been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, she has a medical condition called “frailty syndrome.” It’s real, it’s disheartening, and it’s debilitating, and each and every one of us needs to do everything we can to prevent or delay it.

If you have at least three of these five symptoms, you’re considered frail: 1) Decreased muscle strength 2) A feeling of fatigue 3) Slow walking speed 4) Low levels of activity, and 5) Unintentional loss of at least 10 pounds within the past year. Our grandparents may have believed frailty was an inevitability of aging, but it’s absolutely not! Frailty syndrome now is classified as a medical condition, and, as our population ages, scientists are working hard to find ways to reverse it!

“Frailty syndrome is linked to more deaths, more hospitalizations that end up with patients in nursing homes, more falls, more combinations of chronic diseases, and more complications and side effects from prescribed medications,” said Dr. Peter M. Abadir, a noted gerontologist and clinician with the esteemed Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, MD.


Dr. Linda Fried, an internist, first defined frailty syndrome in 2001 and warned that it puts us at risk of “very bad outcomes.” But what makes some of us frail when we’re only in our 50s, while others never become frail, like Leo? Our genetics and environment certainly play important roles, and even if we don’t have control over either, we can control two other factors that we’ve been hearing about for years—how we exercise and what we eat—according to Dr. Abadir. “Different studies, here and in Europe, have proven again and again that 30 minutes of moderate exercise, six days a week, is linked to a 40 percent mortality risk reduction. You can gain five years in a lifetime with moderate exercise,” Dr. Abadir stressed.

This doesn’t mean you have to jog around the block countless times, until you’re about to pass out. Moderate exercise can mean walking the dog, or yourself, at a lively pace, or making a concerted effort to walk up and down the stairs in your house throughout the day. Weight-bearing and balancing exercises are also critical for maintaining your core strength, so you minimize your risk for falls. “Common sense stays the common sense when it comes to the science of aging,” Dr. Abadir added.

Scientists have discovered that fasting stresses our body at the cellular level far more than we usually do, at least when it comes to nutrition. By overeating, we don’t give our cells a chance to naturally and properly regenerate and rejuvenate, so we’re stuck with loads of damaged, poorly performing cells that can cause all kinds of havoc on our bodies, and contribute to age-related problems.


“Our bodies are in continuous decline and repair processes, which can be linked to most of the diseases of aging,” said Dr. Abadir, whose research is focused on mitochondria. “These are small organelles inside every cell of our bodies that convert oxygen into the energy (fuel) needed for cellular repair,” he explained. Mitochondria power the muscles and tissues of the body and are responsible for creating 90 percent of the energy needed to sustain life and support organ function. When mitochondria stop working properly, organs start to fail and cause us to get sick with diseases like heart failure and diabetes, and even die.

Although we lose mitochondria as we age, researchers have discovered that when older adults (their average age was 67 in one study) regularly exercise, the amount of their mitochondria increases significantly. This, in turn, increases energy and endurance!

Our cells also hold an important molecule called NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), which works within our mitochondria to perform critical functions, such as enabling our cells to convert the fats, proteins, and carbohydrates we eat into the energy we need to stay in top shape. NAD also kicks our “longevity genes” into gear, which regulate cellular aging and the chemical and biological processes that help us maintain healthy and fit lives.

Unfortunately, our level of NAD also substantially declines as our bodies slow down with age. Doing cardio and weight-bearing exercises six times a week, consuming a diet of nutritious whole foods, getting adequate sleep, and staying away from smoking and drinking all are essential. The inevitable physiological stresses of life, however, can lead to poorly functioning mitochondria and the decline of our NAD levels.

Learn more about NAD at AboutNAD.com.