Is Exercising The ‘Fountain of Youth’?

by TheWritingCowboy

Exercising for the elderly is important and can have great health benefits

I exercise – always have. I got into the habit at a relatively early age and have kept at it all my life. As a boomer generation member I think that’s a pretty good record. Why do I do it, I’m often asked? Well, my best answer is that I don’t so much enjoy doing it as I enjoy having done it. It’s hard work, but the results are wonderful.
It’s long been celebrated in song and words that it’s good to be “young at heart.” So, while exercise is good for anyone at any age, there is actually research that proves that older people who exercise vigorously will indeed have younger hearts. Exercise is really a fountain of youth.

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Older people who practice endurance exercise training for about a year actually end up with metabolically younger hearts, according to Dr. Pablo Soto, one of the authors of a study at Washington University in St. Louis. The heart deteriorates as people get older because they don't stay active, he says.

The study measured heart metabolism in groups of older people both at rest and when a drug was given that makes the heart race as if a person were exercising.  At first they found that the drug didn't increase energy in the form of glucose.  However, after the subjects exercised (which included walking, running, and cycling) for about a week, their hearts doubled the level of glucose – much the same as would be the case with younger people.

The study showed that both the men and women experienced the same benefit from exercising, but women had a slightly better result than men.

Participants in the study were between the ages of 60 to 75 who had been living a fairly inactive lifestyle.  As part of the study, they were put on an 11-month program of endurance exercise.  For three months they exercised to about 65 percent of their maximum capacity.  In the following months their exercise program was increased to about 75 percent of maximum.

The researchers tested the volunteers’ heart metabolism before and at the end of their exercise programs to determine the results.  They plan to follow up on their study by investigating how exercise training affects people of any age who have had heart failure. 

Dr. Soto says that in the past the common advice given to people with heart conditions was in many cases to significantly limit their physical activity.  Now, he believes, their research suggests that there may be a significant benefit to getting heart patients to get physically active as soon as possible.

“We're seeing there is potentially a benefit to getting [heart patients] as active as possible,” he says.  “We want to know if heart failure patients will experience the same benefit in heart metabolism with exercise that we saw for older people.”

So, what do you do if you want to get into an exercise regimen? Well, don’t just put on your jogging shoes and enter a marathon. Here are some steps to consider.

  1. Check with your physician. If you are older and haven’t done much in the way of exercise over the years, a check up may be in order. Are there any physical limitations you need to take into consideration?
  2. Start slow. Ease into your exercise program. If it’s jogging you want to do, start with some fast walking. And by all means, remember stretching and warming up beforehand is a must. I began my jogging with just one street block at a time. Even then I was huffing and puffing. But, I kept at it and eventually was able to traverse several miles.
  3. Seek professional help. Perhaps a personal trainer, or a trainer at a local gym can best help in getting you prepared and developing an exercise program that will work best for you. There are some community programs, such as at a local college – that may have group programs that would work best for you.
  4. Check your diet. Exercising and good eating go hand in hand. And guess what, it’s a great way to lose weight. I dumped a lot of foods that weren’t all that healthy – most without even thinking much about it. I also found that when I exercised I was less hungry afterwards. A double benefit for sure.
  5. Use good equipment. Jogging in street shoes is a BIG no-no. Going for cheap running shoes is equally bad. A good pair of shoes for whatever your exercise plan is – jogging, tennis, etc. – requires that you protect your feet in the best possible way. It may cost a few dollars more than a bargain-basement pair of shoes but it is well worth it.
  6. More on equipment. I like the feeling of putting on my shoes, walking out the door and starting my jog. For others, there are lots of equipment options available. Treadmills, weight machines, stationary bicycles, and many, many more. Some are very good – such as treadmills if you live in an area where outdoor jogging is a big problem in bad weather – and some aren’t worth much at all. Check with reliable consumer publications, knowledgeable friends and experts before you plunk down money for any type of exercise machine. When it’s time to buy, go and check out things in person – like in a gym – where you can get a feeling for a particular kind of equipment before you buy. Don’t forget online merchants – like Amazon, Overstock, etc. – to compare prices.
  7. Supplements. There are a lot of pros and cons about taking nutritional supplements to support your exercise program. There are also many experts who will swear by one supplement or another. My view is, listen to your physician. If she or he is telling you that you have a vitamin deficiency then by all means take that vitamin. But, that would be good advice whether or not you are exercising. If your doctor says you don’t require supplements or what you need is to adjust your normal diet in some way, then you don’t need any other pill or potion. Don’t listen to the ads that offer some miracle that will turn your 80-year-old self into a teenager.

Finally, an exercise program is a long-term commitment. Don’t expect results in a week. Whatever you are trying to achieve it is going to take time and effort. And be realistic. For many of us of a certain age, having a washboard stomach is probably not going to happen. So, be realistic, be consistent, and have fun. This isn’t supposed to be torture.


Updated: 07/31/2014, TheWritingCowboy
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