Ageing and Fitness
As people live for longer, researchers have become more
interested in the process of
ageing, the special requirements of
older people, and the factors causing
some individuals to age quickly
while others live a long, vigorous
life with few health problems.
Some of the findings have been
surprising : many of the symptoms
that we associate with ageing, such
as weight gain, decreased muscle
tone and flexibility, diminished
aerobic capacity, bone mineral loss,
a slowing down of reflexes and
depression, are not the inevitable
results of growing older; they are
more often symptoms of inactivity.
Much of the research on exercise
and ageing has centered on aerobic capacity, as determined by your VO2max,
or the measurement of the maximum capacity of your heart, lungs and muscles
to transport and utilize oxygen. Your VO2max normally declines by
about one per cent each year past the age of 30. However, with aerobic
endurance training, the middle-aged and elderly can reclaim their aerobic
capacity; well-conditioned individuals in their 60s and 70s often display
the aerobic capacity of younger, sedentary
people in their 20s. No drug can
offer such promise for health and
vigor as a program of exercise
that includes aerobic activities.
It is never too late to improve your
fitness. In a study of men aged 49 to
65 who embarked on a 30 to 45-minute-per-day walking and jogging program three days per week, researchers found that the men improved their average VO2max by 18
per cent after 20 weeks of training.
With just five months of moderate
aerobic training, the majority of
these men were able to improve their
Besides improving your cardio-respiratory fitness and increasing
lean body mass and muscle endurance, exercise may also help lower
your blood pressure and cholesterol levels -- which tend to rise with age --
reduce stress and aid in weight control. Exercise also minimizes the tendency among older
people to faint or lose their balance.
In addition, weight-bearing activities
such as brisk walking may help
delay or prevent osteoporosis.
If you are currently exercising,
you are probably taking the most
effective step to stay vigorous and
healthy. If you are sedentary and over 45, however, or if you smoke, have high
bloat pressure or have not exercised regularly for two years or more, you
should consult your doctor before you engage in strenuous
exercise. Stop immediately if you
feel any chest pain, dizziness or
nausea. Also, avoid outdoor exercise
in extreme heat or cold. Although
you should expect minor aches and
pains when you begin exercising, cut
back if you feel discomfort.
The Council on Scientific Affairs in the U.S. recommends you start with
brisk walking. Cycling, swimming and running are all excellent
forms of exercise. Running, however, because of the high-impact
pounding, may predispose older persons to bone and joint injuries if they
are unaccustomed to it.
Although performing any amount
of physical activity is better than
none at all, you should aim for
at least 20 minutes of sustained,
vigorous exercise three times a
week. The Council also suggests that
you can benefit from activities such
as stair climbing and gardening.