Exercise is the prescription for long-term fitness. “Breaking into a sweat regularly is a crucial part of becoming and staying a healthy person,” says Ralph Bovard, MD, an orthopedic and occupational medicine specialist at the University of Minnesota and TRIA in Minneapolis. “People forget exercise is medicine. Daily exercise is perhaps the most powerful tool you can prescribe for yourself; a variety of regular activity helps prevent cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, and just about every other affliction that strikes us as we age.”
To wit: A study from Northwestern University followed 5,115 men and women, ages 18 to 30, for 15 years. Those who were highly fit (determined by a preset treadmill test) were half as likely to develop diabetes, hypertension, excess abdominal fat, and high blood pressure. Another study, conducted by Dutch researchers on 3,457 Massachusetts residents spanning 42 years, found that people overweight at age 40 (body mass index [BMI] of 25 and above) lived, on average, three fewer years than their more fit counterparts. Obese people (a BMI of 30 or above) had a life span shortened by six or seven years. Finally, a 2001 study from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas on men in their early 50s discovered that six months of modest exercise (about 4.5 hours a week) brought their cardiovascular capacity back to the levels it was at in their 20s. In effect, six months of training reversed 30 years of aging.
Does this inspire you to get moving? Here’s a look at exercise strategies you can use to clear the hurdles.
Exercise: Do Not Slow Down Especially In Your 50’s and Beyond
It’s never too late to get going. Really. For proof, flash back to triathlete Amundson, who, like Mills, also began running at age 40 and who has since completed nine Ironman races, 10 Half Ironman distance events, and several rim-to-rim hikes of the Grand Canyon. At age 59, he began to bike competitively and overcame his fear of swimming so that he could compete in triathlons. In addition to his regular training, he has also stayed active with general calisthenics into his 70s.
What You Need To Know
Unfortunately, if you are like most 50-plus people, you may believe you’re too old to begin working out. “Only about one in four people over the age of 50 exercises,” says Colin Milner, founder of the International Council of Active Aging. Yet, if you commit right now to get in about five hours of exercise a week — not much, considering the average American watches 34 hours of television weekly — you’ll see the results almost immediately. “The human body is extremely resilient,” says aging expert Jessie Jones. “It will respond and reshape itself to the demands you place on it, no matter what your age.”
What You Have To Do
Milner asserts that you can regain your strength in as little as 14 weeks of resistance work on strength-training machines, and the aforementioned University of Texas study on men in their early 50s found that cardiovascular health can be improved significantly in just six months.
Exercisers over age 50, though, should pay attention to a few specifics. First up is arthritis, a disease that afflicts 50 million Americans and is particularly problematic for folks over 50. Although exercise can help keep arthritis at bay, if you sustained a serious sports-related injury when you were younger, you may be feeling the effects of arthritis sooner. (See “Fighting Inflammation” http://experiencelife.com/article/fighting-inflammation/ So, to prevent arthritis from hampering your workout efforts, be sure to follow a good warm-up routine before diving into any activity, advises Millar, who wrote Action Plan for Arthritis (Human Kinetics, 2003).
Then there’s core strength, which you can improve in the weight room through abdominal and back exercises. Better core strength and a continued focus on improving balance can help you reduce your chance of taking a fall. “Every year, one out of three people over the age of 65 falls and sustains some kind of fracture, and half of these people will fall again within 12 months,” says Milner. According to the National Osteoporosis
Men: Fight age with muscle – After 50, the sedentary man’s muscle loss speeds up and he then loses about 10 percent of his muscle mass every decade. This leads directly to osteoporosis. If you’ve been lifting weights, keep it up. If you haven’t, start now—it’s not too late. American College of Sports Medicine guidelines cover strength training for people over 65. Your workout should also involve more balance moves to strengthen your feet, ankles, and core and to straighten your posture.
Foundation, 24 percent of people over the age of 50 who have fractured a hip from a fall die in the year following injury.
Women especially should hit the weights during this time: In the five to seven years after menopause (which, for the average American woman, kicks in around age 51), they can lose up to 15 percent of their bone mass. “One-half of postmenopausal women over the age of 50 have osteopenia, the beginning of osteoporosis,” says Milner. Males fare much better, losing only 0.4 to 0.75 percent of bone mass per year beginning at age 45.
As you look to the future, realize that if you’re still active in the second half of your life, you can keep it up for many years to come. “Most Americans have about 10 years at the end of their lives when they need help doing daily tasks,” says Bovard. “A person who has been active can compress that span to about three years.”
Your fifth decade of life isn’t a bad time to go on an exercise kick. In fact, for many people, the freedom they experience later in life — from having their kids out of the house and being more secure in their careers — delivers a powerful impetus and opportunity to make fitness a priority.
That said, if you have been exercising regularly since your 20s, go ahead and pat yourself on the back. A 1999 study from San Diego State University followed a group of 45-year-old men who participated in an exercise program for 25 to 33 years and concluded that exercise “has a favorable effect on aging of the cardiovascular system in older men, resulting in minimal loss of oxygen uptake, no rise in resting blood pressure, and no change in body composition.”
Translation: The men were nearly as fit at 70 as they were at 45. And when you picture yourself in the future, isn’t that what you’d like to see?
Article: Exercise Is a Prescription for Long-Term Fitness By: Dimity McDowell
McDowell is a writer and contributor for http://www.ExperienceLife.com