Regular Physical Activity:
The Real "Fountain of Youth"
weight lifting, flexibility training and other forms of exercise can
help seniors avoid disabilities normally associated with aging and even
reverse the aging process itself, a team of scientists has concluded.
in physical ability is an inevitable result of normal aging, but
inactivity can hasten this decline and result in all-too-rapid rates of
muscular atrophy, decreased endurance and loss of flexibility and
balance, according to Kyriakos S. Markides, Ph.D., and colleagues at
the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
the winter issue of "Behavioral Medicine," the researchers cite
numerous studies that demonstrate the benefits of exercise on the aging
A walking program for people in their 70s that reversed 22 years of
declining lung capacity in 22 weeks. The capacity of lungs to absorb
oxygen normally declines an average of 1 percent a year after age 40;
those in their 70s recaptured the lung capacity they'd had in their
A 12-week weight resistance program that more than doubled the leg
muscle strength of some participating women 64 years and older.
A 12-month resistance training program for men and women that increased
their muscle strength by 30 percent to 100 percent in the first three
months, after which point they reached a plateau and did not continue
A study in which people who exercised by walking several days a week
decreased their risk of disability and improved their ability to walk
distances, climb stairs, stoop, crouch, kneel and carry objects. The
risk of disability decreased by one-third for whites and two-thirds for
not only can slow down aging by maintaining regular physical activity
but also prevent chronic conditions, said Markides and colleagues.
lifestyle is the most prevalent modifiable risk factor for coronary
artery disease, far exceeding hypertension, smoking and high
cholesterol. In one study, 184 adults aged 60 and older were randomized
into three groups: long-term exercise, short-term exercise and a
control group. At the end of two years, both exercise groups showed a
decreased rate of new cardiovascular diagnoses compared to the control.
researchers report that patients who already have coronary artery
disease can reduce their risk of death from a cardiac event by 20
percent to 25 percent if they exercise, and even lower the severity of
some risk factors for heart attacks, such as hypertension, obesity,
high cholesterol and diabetes.
lifestyle also increases the risk for hip fractures, according to the
researchers. In one study, women who spent less than four hours a day
on their feet had nearly twice the risk of hip fractures as their more
Copyright 1999 Health Resources Publishing