A study released early this year concluded that a lifetime of exercise can slow the aging process.
In the study conducted by the University of Birmingham and King’s College London, 125 amateur male and female cyclists, ages 55 to 79, were compared with 75 men and women, ages 57 to 80 (who did not participate in regular exercise) and with 55 healthy young adults, age 20 to 36. The study did not include smokers, heavy drinkers, or individuals that had high blood pressure.
The researchers found that the cyclists had not loss muscle mass or strength with age. They also had not increased their body fat and the men’s testosterone levels remained high, suggesting that they had skipped male menopause.
Additionally, their immune systems had not aged! The thymus, which makes our immune cells, normally starts shrinking at age 20 and makes less and less T cells as we age. The cyclists’ thymus was making T cells like a young person!
EXERCISE BENEFITS BEGIN AT ANY AGE
You’re not a lifelong cyclist. Is it too late for you to get in shape?
No, it is never too late to begin exercising.
Research shows that seniors can reap the benefits of exercise right away. Seniors who begin an exercise routine report a reduction in pain and increased flexibility.
Seventy-nine-year-old Solveig McCullouch, who began exercising at age 76, told the Oakland Press that she has more endurance, better balance and is more flexible since she began walking daily and participating in twice-weekly strength training.
At age 56, Ernestine Shepherd and her sister went bathing suit shopping and were so amused at their bodies in the ill-fitting suits, that they decided to get into shape. Ernestine had lived a sedentary life until that point. She was overweight and had never worked out a day in her life. She joined a gym and began slowly building her body. Today, at age 82, Ernestine Shepherd is a personal trainer for seniors, a model, and a competitive bodybuilder.
If you watch television, perhaps you’ve seen 72-year-old Jimmy Brown showing off his physique after 2 years of working out on the Total Gym.
These seniors seem to have slowed the aging process using exercise. You can, too.
Studies show that seniors who participate in exercise have reduced pain, stronger bones and heart, improved memory and brain function, and remain independent longer than those who lead a sedentary lifestyle.
NO FANCY EQUIPMENT NEEDED
You don’t need fancy gym equipment to reap the benefits of exercise. You can start with an activity that you enjoy and do it regularly.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention guideline recommends that all American adults, including seniors, participate in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week with strength activities included at least twice per week.
That works out to only 2 -1/2 hours per week! Start slow. Try 15 minutes per day then slowly increase to 30 minutes per day.
If you have a chronic condition, you can still benefit from exercise. Choose activities that your condition will allow.
Can’t think of anything?
Here are four activities you may want to try:
1. Tai Chi
Perhaps you’ve seen them on television —a group of men and women practicing what looks like a slow-moving, synchronous martial arts ballet —and wondered what the heck they were doing. That’s Tai Chi! Tai Chi uses slow, gentle movements, and deep breathing. The result is improved balance, bone, and heart health, better sleep and a reduced risk of falls in seniors.
Yoga can be done at any age. You don’t necessarily have to bend yourself into a pretzel. All yoga poses can be adapted to different skill levels. Find a yoga instructor who is experienced with working with seniors. Yoga helps develop strength, endurance, and flexibility.
3. Water Aerobics
Most gyms offer this fitness class for seniors and all ages. In waist deep water, participants perform movements using the water as resistance. A no-impact activity, water aerobics increases muscle strength, builds endurance and increases flexibility. It’s also fun!
Hippocrates, the father of medicine said, “Walking is man’s best medicine.” And, it is. This low-impact exercise can be done alone or in a group. It’s easy and it’s cheap. Take a walk with the grandkids. Walking increases heart and lung fitness, lowers blood pressure, improves balance and coordination, burns fat and helps fight weight gain.
Add two days per week of weightlifting using one to two pounds (try seated weight lifting) into your walking routine and you will have a total body workout that is easy and fun.
You can find more exercise ideas at the National Institute on Aging’s Go4Life website.
Do consult with your State of Franklin Healthcare Associates physician before beginning any new exercise routine. Your physician will want to ensure that the exercise is one that will be good for you.
Here’s to a younger and healthier lifestyle at any age!