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  • Writer's pictureMike Scruggs

Survival of the Fittest - Aging and Exercise

Exercise and longevity - it’s Darwin’s redux: “The survival of the fittest”. While aging is inevitable, no longer is it to be feared. While we cannot stop the clock, we can slow it down and enjoy life, as we age, with grace and vigor. Studies from throughout Europe and the U. S. all confirm the benefits of exercise, especially later in life.

Exercise is important for everyone, but no one gains more from regular exercise than seniors. Benefits range from disease and pain prevention to enhanced energy levels and moods. As you age exercise outshines almost everything else you can do for your health. There are twelve (12) main benefits associated with exercise, that have been substantiated by through multiple research studies, these are:

  • Better Mood

  • More Energy

  • Better Sleep Patterns

  • More Confidence

  • Less Stress

  • More Productivity

  • Weight Control

  • Longer Life Expectancy

  • Stronger Bones and Muscles

  • A Healthier Heart

  • A Lower Risk of Cancer

  • Less Arthritis Pain

Heart disease is the leading killer of Americans. Because exercise helps improve cardiac risk factors such as cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and stress, it has a profound protective influence against heart attack. In a 1978 Harvard Alumni Study, it was found that men who exercised regularly were 39% less likely to suffer a heart attack. Since then this result has been confirmed many times over.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U. S. Like heart disease, many strokes are caused by atherosclerosis, which is why heart attacks and stroke share so many common risk factors. It is not surprise that exercise reduces the risk of stroke. 24 years after the original Harvard Alumni study on heart disease, they produced a new study linking mild exercise with a 24% risk reduction in stroke, and correlated a 46% reduction in stoke risk with moderate to intense exercise.

Young adulthood is typically defined as 20-35 years of age. Early-middle age is defined as 35-45 years of age, with late-middle age defined as 45-65 years of age. During early-middle age physical activities usually begin to slow, with the average American accumulating 10 to 20 pounds of body fat, typically 1 to 2 pounds per year. During late-middle age women reach menopause and men start seeing a reduction of sex hormones. During this time period our physical condition continues to deteriorate and may in-fact accelerate.

In early-old age (65-75 years) there may be a modest increase in physical activity, as a result of more free time associated with retirement. By middle-old age (75-85 years) it is reported that many Americans have some form of physical disability. In the final stage (over 85 years), the average American becomes totally dependent.

We have to remember though, there are wide ranges in functional status at any give chronological age. In terms of muscle strength, flexibility, and maximal oxygen intake, a well conditioned 65-year-old may out-perform a sedentary 25-year-old.

When accessing fitness and longevity, decisions should be based upon biological age as opposed to chronological age. Attempts to combine such measurements as graying of the hair, skin elasticity, decreases in vital capacity, and decrease in reaction time provide a complicated and inaccurate method of accessing an individual’s biological age.

It is undeniable that exercise can greatly slow the aging process and provides many physical and mental health benefits. So where do we go from there? How do we start, what do we do, what do we need? How long will it take and how committed am I? These are all good questions and all very appropriate. For each person, the answers are different and typically vary. The underlying premises are the same, however; everyone needs to eat healthier and everyone needs to exercise. These two (2) underlying premises equate to effect a life style change that everyone needs, but some just are not ready to embrace.

The difficulty in answering the questions, “What do I need to do, where do I start, how do I know what I’m capable of”, is that we are all different. We all have different dietary requirements and limitations. We all have different body types and fitness levels. We all have different chronological ages and different personalities.

The first step is to contact a health professional, typically your primary care physician. Get their opinion and take their advice. Start making positive changes in your life. If you have an injury, arthritis, joint pain, diabetes, or heart disease they will set limitations and provide you a guideline to start from.

The second step is getting started. How do you deal with fears that you’ll injure yourself or do the exercises wrong? While these are legitimate concerns, they don’t have to stand in your way. Getting started is often the hardest part, but knowing exactly where to start can give you the confidence to take that first step.

Consider joining a gym to start. Typically, the city you live in has a recreation facility and/or a YMCA. These and other private gyms typically provide group exercise classes/programs designed for a wide range people with differing abilities and ages. Learn the basics of exercise and progress from there to develop your own personalized program that is challenging, as well as, fun and interesting. Like anything else, sometimes it takes a little trial and error to find that happy place where you are comfortable and enthusiastic. Remember, you are trying to make a permanent life style change.

Changing your life style to incorporate exercise and good nutrition is a monumental accomplishment. It is not just for a week, or a month, or a year…this is for the rest of your life, and it requires devotion and dedication.

There are specialized professionals available to assist you. Contacting a Personal Trainer to design and setup an exercise regime that will systematically help you reach your goals is also suggested. They are there to motivate, educate, and help you quickly reach your goals. Also contacting a Nutritionist or Dietitian to tailor a dietary program, that you can live with while meeting you dietary needs and goals is suggested. As you progress into a healthier being, these professionals are there to support you, give you encouragement, and help you adjust your plan as you reach a goal or plateau.

Are you ready to get in the gym and lift weights with those muscle-bound guys or are you ready to run a marathon? Most likely not! Can you get out after dinner and walk around the neighborhood for a half an hour? How about an hour? What can you do right now to start to turn around the aging process; that is where you start.

There is endurance training, resistance training, flexibility training, balance training; what’s right for you? The answer is all of it. You need to be able to stay on your feet and to keeping moving, you need to work and tone all of your muscles, you need to be flexible, and you need to have good balance. All in moderation though; start slow, progress, and then change it up and set new goals. While it seems that you might be taking baby steps and it is taking forever to reach your goal, just keep challenging yourself on a daily basis and you’ll be there before you know it. Having a professional help you will expedite the time required to meet those goals.

Regular exercise helps people age more slowly and live healthier, fuller lives. It also helps people live longer. Recent studies have reported that people who exercise regularly can gain about 2 hours of life expectancy for every hour of exercise. Over a life time that can have a profound effect on live expectancy.

“Exercise is not the fountain of youth, but it is good long drink of vitality.” Especially if it results in an overall life style change.


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