Healthy Aging: Fitness

Fitness for Anti-Aging

by Tiffany Esmat, Ph.D.

Do you know what centenarians and longlived individuals tend to have in common? Would you guess that their longevity has often been attributed to a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a social network and positive mental outlook?

As we age, both structural and functional declines occur in most physiological systems, even in individuals without chronic diseases. This decline presents itself through decreased maximal aerobic capacity and muscle performance. In addition, body composition (the percentage of muscle mass to fat mass) also starts to change. Aging is often associated with decreased muscle mass and increased fat mass, placing older adults at a greater risk for both metabolic and cardiovascular disease. These changes often contribute to reduced functional capacity and further affect activities of daily living and overall quality of life.

However, while exercise may not completely stop the biological aging process, it can provide many positive benefits. Benefits include increasing life expectancy and decreasing the progression and development of some chronic diseases while decreasing the risk of disability. Living an inactive or sedentary lifestyle can have many negative side effects including increased fatigue, sleep disturbances, difficulty with everyday tasks and decreased self-esteem. Often the negative effects associated with living a sedentary lifestyle are confused with getting older. Remember that lifestyle factors or things we have control over can make a difference in how we age. If we choose to participate in physical activity and regular exercise, we can choose to positively impact how we age. By leading an active lifestyle, we are working to preserve our independence by increasing our functional ability.

It is never too late to become physically active. Participating in a regular exercise program brings benefits that can affect our everyday activities. These include improved cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, flexibility and balance. These are important factors in functional ability. In addition, participation in regular exercise can also positively affect pain control, selfconfidence and sleep patterns. These multiple benefits can make the difference between living at home independently or not.

The general recommendation for all adults is to accumulate 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. Additional benefits can be achieved through more activity. Adults that cannot participate in the minimum recommendation of 150 minutes per week should be as physically active as possible. The aerobic activity should be a rhythmic activity that uses large muscle groups such as walking, cycling, swimming or low-impact aerobics. What is the best type of activity? It depends on the individual. The ideal activity is one that is accessible, does not impose orthopedic stress and, most important, is one that is enjoyable to enhance overall compliance with the exercise program.

Muscular strength and endurance is often considered the most important component of health-related fitness for older adults as it counters the loss of muscle mass and the corresponding physical weakness that occurs with aging. In addition, it can help with balance issues, thereby reducing the risk of falls and fractures. Muscular strength and endurance also plays a great role in completing everyday tasks such as climbing stairs, unloading groceries and getting up from a seated or reclined position. The general recommendation for muscular strength and endurance includes training each of the six major muscle groups (legs, abdominals, back, chest, shoulders and arms) twice a week at a moderate intensity. A combination of eight to ten exercises should be performed with one to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Flexibility training (stretching) can help increase range of motion needed for everyday activities. Flexibility exercises should be performed at least two times per week with each stretch held for 10 to 30 seconds to the point of tension but not pain. Each stretch should be completed two to four times. Balance training refers to a combination of activities created to increase lower body strength and while decreasing the risk of falling. Balance training is recommended for any adult at risk of falling.

For those who are not currently active, a great place to start is by limiting your sedentary leisure time. Try to incorporate ways to be more physically active in your everyday life such as taking the stairs or parking the car farther away from your destination. Find ways to socialize while participating in physical activity. Remember that some activity is better than none, and even small amounts bring health benefits. Whether you are currently physical active or have not been active in many years, the importance of a wellrounded exercise program cannot be stressed enough. The benefits are for everyone, regardless of age. Remember: it is never too late to start an exercise program to experience the many wonderful anti-aging benefits.

 

The above article on healthy aging was originally published in the Fall 2010 edition of the American College of Sports Medicine’s “ACM Fit Society Page” newsletter.

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Healthy Aging Quiz

Which of these is most likely to improve your memory after the age 50?
A) Solving crosswords or Sudoku puzzles
B) Going on regular walks
C) Taking Ginkgo biloba supplements

What is the best treatment for creaky arthritic knees?
A) Sitting down, rest
B) Taking glucosamine supplements
C) Doing Tai Chi
D) Taking Shark cartilage pills

Which of these habits could shave the most time off of your life?
A) Watching T.V.
B) Smoking

True or False
If you are middle-aged and have spent the last 20 years smoking, avoiding exercise, and leading unhealthy lifestyle, it’s too late to change now.

True or False
To feel younger, just open your window blinds

As you age, volunteering can:
A) Decrease Depression
B) Improve your sex life
C) Both

If you are physically active and sociable, you can expect to add how many years to your lifespan?
A) 0.8
B) 1.5
C) 3.6
D) 5.4

If you are a woman 40 or older and worried about improving bone health or avoiding falls, you may want to take up?
A) Running
B) Soccer
C) A Cane

What’s the best way to motivate yourself to be physically active after age 40?
A) Join a gym
B) Adopt a dog
C) Cut out a photo of Michelle Obama’s biceps
D) Hire a personal trainer

In 2011, A runner at the Toronto Marathon, became the oldest person ever to finish a race of that distance.  His age was:
A) 72
B) 86
C) 91
D) 100

 

Answers:

1)  (B) Human brains typically shrink with age, impairing memory (and explaining why your car keys keep disappearing).  But revelatory study published in October found that physically active older people experienced less brain shrinkage than sedentary seniors, even those who engaged in “mentally stimulating” activities like puzzles.

2) (C) In controlled experiments, glucosamine and shark cartilage have failed to reliably relieve knee pain, but a 2011 review of multiple studies of tai chi – that famously flowing series of stretches and poses- concluded that it is generally effective at controlling pain and improving physical function.

3) (A) According to a surprising new analysis of health records published in October, every hour that an adult over 25 spends sitting and watching television can cut about 22 minutes from his or her life span; smoking a cigarette reduces life span by about 11 minutes.  The reason, according to the scientists who conducted the study, is that hours of sitting lead to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease and so may have even greater impact on longevity than smoking.

4) Answer: False. Recent research shows that people who quit smoking by age 40 gained nearly 10 years of life over those who continued to puff.  And a 2012 study by researchers at the Cooper Institute in Dallas concluded that people who started to exercise in middle age- even if they only walked a few times a week- were healthier further into old age than people who never started exercising.

5) Answer: True.  Looking out a window onto natural, outdoorsy scenes may reduce blood pressure and other markers of stress, several new studies show. More remarkably, in a 2009 experiment reported in the Lancet, older people in Hong Kong who lived near open, green spaces had longer telomeres, a portion of the DNA strand that often shortens and frays with age.  In effect, they had younger cells. 

6) (C) It is well established that middle –aged and older people who spend time volunteering are less prone to depression, but it was a pleasant surprise when University of Pittsburgh researchers found that a sense of “higher purpose” in life, often achieved through volunteering, led women to report more enjoyable sex lives.

7) (D) According to a major 2012 study in the British medical Journal, people 75 or older who “swam, walked, or did gymnastics” (meaning, in Brit speak, they attended stretching and toning classes) and who had a “rich or moderate social network” lived more than five years longer than people who were isolated and sedentary.  Even “the oldest old,” past age 85, could expect an extra four years of life if they remained active and socially engaged.

8) (B) Scientists in Denmark recently had one group of sedentary adult women join a soccer league and another group start running for 14 weeks.  Afterward, the soccer players had gained more bone mass in the legs and had better leg muscle strength and balance, than the runners.  (Plus, their kids were undoubtedly impressed.)

9) (B) In a recent Canadian study of people up to age 80, dog owners were found to walk about 300 minutes per week, almost twice as many as those without canine.  The dog owners were also significantly more likely to follow through on an “intention” to walk, because who could say no to that face?

10) (D) Fauja Singh, a durable centenarian, set a world record by crossing the finish line in 8 hours, 25 minutes, and 16 seconds.  Nine younger whippersnappers finished after him.

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