Aging, Activity And Disease

Aging, Activity And Disease


Aging has numerous effects on your body's systems. Various measures of bodily function and physical well-being generally improve rapidly during childhood and reach a maximum between ages 20 and 30. From this point, there is a gradual decrease of functional capacity with each coming year.

The Measurable Effects of Aging

The cardiorespiratory, nervous, and musculoskeletal systems experience a number of important changes with regards to aging. These include:

  • Maximal heart rate decreases approximately one beat per year after age 25
  • Narrowing of arteries that supply blood to the heart
  • Decreased major blood vessel elasticity
  • Decreased heart stroke volume and cardiac output
  • After age 30, there is a gradual, progressive loss of lung function
  • After age 25, VO2 Max drops 8-10% per decade
  • Drop in nerve conduction velocity
  • Decreased number of fibers per motor unit
  • Muscles take longer to respond to neural stimuli
  • Loss of coordination
  • Decreased speed of movement
  • Decreased strength and endurance
  • Loss of bone tissue, osteoporosis
  • Drop in muscular strength and endurance
  • Loss of elasticity of connective tissue
  • Increased weight gain along with loss of lean muscle tissue
  • Increased incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and cancer
  • Increased incidence of elevated blood lipids, glucose intolerance, and diabetes

Slowing the Aging Process

The good news is that exercise can slow down, halt and possibly even reverse many of these trends. Much of the decline that is commonly associated with the aging process is often the result of lifelong inactivity and improper lifestyle habits. Research clearly demonstrates that if an active lifestyle is maintained into later years, a relatively high level of function may be retained and vigorous activity can be engaged in both safely and successfully.

It is never too late to get started. Moderate, consistent physical activity not only slows down the decrease of functional capacity associated with aging, but can help reverse those losses regardless of when in life you become active. In fact, research with elderly individuals shows that exercise among 60 and 70 year olds can improve their fitness levels to those that are normally associated with men and women who are much younger. Increases have been noted in muscular strength and endurance, body composition, flexibility, aerobic capacity, cardiopulmonary function, neural processes, improved heart disease risk profiles, decreased bone loss, and even resistance to depression.

The length of time we live may be relatively fixed, but the quality of that time is not. By exerting some control over your well-being with exercise and moderate diet, the life you lead can become much more pleasant and healthy.

There are two indicators of age that should concern you. One is your chronological age and the other is your physiological age. Your chronological age is your calendar age, or the number of years that you have lived. In reference to wellness and longevity, you should be more concerned with your physiological age. This age is more like your biological age; it tells how old your body is in respect to health and disease status.

Your physiological age invoves such factors as blood pressure, glucose tolerance, cholesterol levels, vision, hearing, skin tone and elasticity, flexibility, reaction time and dexterity.This figure can also include health risks, aerobic fitness, and strength fitness.

Chronological age may be a poor measurement of health and fitness. Well-being is directly related to lifestyle habits, heredity, illness history, environmental influences, and fitness. Therefore, physiological age can be a much better predictor of health or performance.

According to studies conducted by the Canadian Institute of Stress from 1981-1984, many people's physiological ages are considerably higher than their chronological ages. In addition, the studies pointed out that premature aging can take place at any stage of life, but most commonly during people's forties and fifties. Fortunately, these same studies pointed out that it is possible to reduce your physiological age in later years as easily as you could in your thirties and forties.

Aging, Lifestyle and Exercise

Did you ever wonder why some people are able to remain more active longer than others who are the same age? Declines in aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility combined with increased body fat and disease states were once believed to be totally age-related. Scientists now believe that these age-related decreases are linked more to lifestyle, exercise and dietary habits.

The diseases that kill millions every year are not a necessity of existence. Heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer are all believed to be related to your lifestyle.

As stated previously, you can modify many of the factors normally associated with age, such as heart and lung function, bone density, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol levels. Your quality of life can improve as you get older. Minimizing your health risks can take years off your physiological age.

Regular exercise can play a major role in preventing many of the negative diseases and decreases in physical performance that seem to accompany aging. In addition to its many positive physiological benefits, regular exercise can develop self-awareness of the body and improved mental well-being.

It is easy to see how a well-rounded exercise program helps counteract the changes associated with aging. A well-planned, safe and consistent program will slow down, stop, and possibly even reverse aging-related changes. Such a program should include aerobic exercise, muscular conditioning and stretching.

Older adults require exercise as much as younger individuals. In a number of ways, the benefits of exercise for seniors may be even more pronounced. Aerobic exercise can help in the fight against a number of diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, and obesity.

Resistance training helps maintain adequate muscular strength, endurance, and tone. Proper muscle density serves to maintain an elevated metabolism, which provides for better weight control. In addition, proper resistance training promotes joint mobility and even increases flexibility. In fact, a study of nursing home residents 86-96 years old demonstrated that weight training was capable of causing dramatic improvements in muscle strength in frail men and women up to 96 years of age. This study was conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. It involved an eight week, supervised resistance training program that increased the elderly weight trainers' muscular strength by three to four times. All of the participants in the program had been physically sedentary for years. In addition, a number of them had coronary heart disease, arthritis, high blood pressure or previous bone fractures. It is easy to see how a properly supervised resistance training program can prove both beneficial and safe to the elderly.

As with any exercise program, seniors should see a doctor prior to beginning their exercise regimen. A physician can do the appropriate risk appraisal and stress exercise tests before issuing a medical release. In this manner, one can be assured the program will be safe and successful.

Remember to begin your exercise program at a relatively moderate level of intensity, progressing very gradually to increased levels. By starting at a level well within your present capabilities, you can safely allow your body the time to gradually adapt to the stresses imposed upon it by the program.

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