The Free Radical Theory of Aging is probably one of the most popular theories of aging. It’s about how oxidative stress brought on by free radicals results in aging and the development of a variety of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders and some cancers.

A free radical is an atom with an unpaired electron. The nucleus of an atom is surrounded by a ring of paired electrons. Sometimes an atom loses an electron (referred to as oxidation), leaving the atom with an unpaired electron. The atom is then a free radical and is said to be highly reactive; it sets off a chain reaction of damaging events in the search for an electron to fill its outer ring. Free radicals damage DNA, proteins, cell membranes and other structures.

The presence of too many free radicals creates a condition called "oxidative stress." Andrew Weil, in Healthy Aging, says that "oxidative stress is simply the total burden placed on organisms by the constant production of free radicals in the normal course of metabolism..."

Free radicals are produced in the body in a number of ways but the most common production occurs in the mitochondria (oxygen furnaces) through the electron transport chain. This is significant because this energy system is used to produce ATP (the energy currency of the cell) during aerobic metabolism. So when you spend endless hours doing aerobic exercise, you increase free radical production, oxidative stress and the likelihood of aging more quickly over time.

To reduce oxidative stress, cut back on aerobic exercise and do more anaerobic exercise, such as interval training. And, include an abundance of plant foods, which are loaded with antioxidants, in your diet. Our bodies have enzymes (antioxidants) that intercept free radicals, convert them to less harmful substances and remove them from the body. These antioxidants are derived from foods which are rich in vitamin E, beta-carotene and vitamin C.

And if you're not currently eating an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, supplement with Vitamins E, beta-carotene, Vitamin C and the minerals zinc and selenium. The best anti-oxidation strategy is to eat an abundance of plant foods and supplement your diet.

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Article by Mikki Reilly, BA, MFS, of FitnessTransform. Visit her web site,, and her blog, for the the most up-to-date news, information and tips that will help you transform your health, fitness and overall quality of life.