Exercise and long term health

A study out of the USA has shown that consistent exercise helps maintain heart function into old age.

In fact, the hearts of older (65 year plus) regular exercisers were found to be more youthful than the hearts of sedentary 25-34 year olds.

It has long been recognised that part of the aging process is the loss of muscle mass – particularly skeletal (e.g. limb) muscle… but this was the first study of its kind to show that the cardiac (heart) muscle acts in a similar way. Use it or you lose it!

This study involved 121 healthy people with no history of heart disease. 59 were sedentary while the remaining 62 were lifetime exercisers with documented exercise habits dating back more than 25 years. The subjects were broken down into four groups: nonexercisers; casual exercisers (two to three times a week); committed exercisers (four to five times a week) and master athletes (six to seven times a week).

Heart mass measurements, taken using MRIs (scanning images of the heart), showed that sedentary subjects had diminished heart mass as they aged, while lifelong exercisers had heart mass expansion with increasing frequency of exercise.

If you’re in your middle age (45 to 60) and you start exercising four to five times a week, this will go a long way to preventing some of the major heart conditions of old age, including heart failure.

Worried that you might be ‘too old’ to take up a regular exercise program? Fear not!

We have an aging population here in Canada (and throughout the Western World) and our inactivity and sedentary lifestyles are aging us faster than needs to be the case. Regular moderate exercise keeps us fit and strong enough to keep working and doing the things we love in our later years. We most often hear people talk about the benefits of cardiovascular exercise such as walking, jogging or cycling. But building our muscle strength is just as important.

Why do we need bigger, stronger muscles as we age?

1. Muscle shrinks with age. Less muscle means a slower resting metabolism, which means we accumulate body fat quicker, along with all the associated health complications.

2. Muscles pull on bones keeping bones strong. If muscle size/ strength dwindles the muscles don’t pull on the bones as Exercise and Long-Term Heart Health by Guy Leech and Rod Cedaro (MESSA - Exercise Physiologist)

3. Stronger muscles aid in independent living as we get older. Balance and general function are significantly better when you maintain muscle. For example, daily activities such as walking, showering and loading groceries in/out of the car will be easier.

4. Stronger muscles and better balance allows us to work more effectively and comfortably for longer with a lowered risk of injury from associated work activities.

Research indicates that men and women with an average age of 69 who trained with resistance and endurance exercise over a six month period of time, showed marked improvements in strength and endurance. Resistance (strength) training produced the most marked benefits. So, if you’ve already been doing some cardiovascular exercise like walking, jogging or cycling, that’s a great start. But you may want to add some exercise to build your strength.

What exercises can I do to build my muscle strength?

This could be as varied as you wish to make it. From a weights program in the gym to using your own body weight to do pushups and sit-ups in the park, or exercise classes in a pool – all such programs build muscle. There is little doubt that resistance/strength training is the ‘Fountain of Youth’ and the long-term health benefits are well worth the investment of your time and effort.

REFERENCE: Journal of Applied Physiology: 2001 May;90(5):1663-70

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