The Link Between Exercise and Aging
Written by Jennifer Stawarz, MSPT
As we age there are some gradual changes that can creep up without us even realizing them until they’re a problem. Everything you do - good or bad - adds up. Without paying attention to your daily health habits, time could be your worst enemy. Not that doing something once is an issue, it is the repeated ‘doing the wrong thing’ over a long period of time that could leave you aging less than ideally. In order to age gracefully, there are a few things you can stop doing and a few things to start right now that can tip the scale in a more favorable direction.
As we age, it’s pretty common to put on a few pounds each year without changing our eating or exercising habits at all. That’s because in our 40’s we start to lose muscle mass (conditioned muscle is responsible for burning fat for us even at rest). Therefore, we could put on 3-4 lbs of fat each year. This decline in muscle mass and increase in fat, over the span of 10 years as we age can look like an additional 40 lbs of weight and reduced ability to burn fat from our more youthful muscle mass years. These changes happen to even healthy men & women as the natural aging process.
According to Harvard Health research, many of the changes attributed to aging are in fact caused in large part by disuse. So basically, exercise (the opposite of disuse) can actually be your fountain of youth - or at least slow it all down!
Where is the proof? Check out The Dallas Bedrest & Training Study. It was conducted in 1966 at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. They asked 5 healthy men in their twenties to volunteer to stay in bed for 3 weeks. They were tested before and after exercise and found that the men who were on bed rest had faster heart rates, higher blood pressure, a drop in their hearts’ maximum pumping capacity, a rise in body fat and decline in muscle mass.
In only 3 weeks, these twenty year olds had developed many physiologic characteristics of men twice their age. They were then put on an 8 week exercise program. The research proved that with this training, they were able to reverse the effects of being inactive and then some. Therefore, you can see this study shows the detrimental effects of bed rest and leading a sedentary lifestyle. It facilitated a change in best medical practice by encouraging an early return to physical activity after illness or surgery.
This study determined that endurance training proved to be the best way to improve cardiovascular function and protects our metabolism from the effects of aging - such as reducing body fat and lowering blood sugar levels. Many of the changes that physiologists attribute to aging are actually caused by disuse. So you can use your body to keep it young.
So what can we do to slow down our own aging process?
An exercise program will help someone delay many of the changes of aging, especially when combined with other healthy habits such as food choices and eliminating bad habits that we know are not helping like smoking and excessive drinking. By exercising and looking at the rest of your lifestyle, you can help eliminate many of the chronic illnesses that cause us to age prematurely.
Our best tips for starting an exercise program safely:
Start slow and get clearance from your doctor before you begin.
Pick something that you enjoy. Speaking directly to endurance training, you have so many options - swimming, walking, biking, hiking, running or dancing.
Keep it consistent. Your goal is 5 days a week of 30 minutes of endurance training. If that sounds like too much initially, make a goal for 3 days a week for the first month then increase as the activity gets easier and you start to form the habit.
Build a strong social network for your exercise habit. Encourage your friends and family to join you - makes it more fun for everyone. When you have an exercise buddy, you’re also less likely to skip!
Let exercise help you. Don’t think of it as a punishment - think of it as an extra insurance policy.