COVER STORY

EXERCISE AND SUCCESSFUL AGING

successful aging

Exercise can help us to have healthy and successful aging. In our previous editions, we have already covered other benefits of exercises both in physiological and cardiovascular fitness.

Aging is a non-modifiable risk factor for other conditions such as diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart disease, etc. Hence it is imperative for older individuals that they minimize as best they can the modifiable risk factors for these diseases. Although being aware that exercise helps us improve upon modifiable risk factors, here we will discuss how exercise can help us improve aging and quality of life.

Today a big portion of the world’s population is 65 years or above. From a health care perspective alone, it is important to take certain measures to have a healthy lifestyle.

Remaining sedentary actually contributes to many health problems previously being contributed to be part of the aging process. While physiological aging is inevitable, a functional decline in key variables such as stamina, strength, flexibility, and balance can greatly be offset by participating in a sound program of regular exercise. Benefits are many and significant including maintaining an independent lifestyle and high quality of life in later years.

Let us begin with cardiovascular endurance. Maximum oxygen consumption declines with advancing age in sedentary males and females. This is because of the decrease in cardio output and arterial- venal oxygen difference. However, a lifetime active life simply doubles the VO2 max in adults 65 years and older when compared to their same-age sedentary counterparts.

Equally, it is important to note that it is never too late to start an aerobic training program. Individuals who take on such training even after crossing 65 years of age can reap the benefits of training by increasing their VO2 max and cardiovascular endurance. This will lead to an increase in stamina to do many activities of life beyond just surviving. Hence one will have a higher quality of life.

Sarcopenia

A major health problem for the older population is ‘Sarcopenia’. It is defined as a loss of skeletomuscular mass and its functionality with advancing age. After the age of 50 years, sedentary men and women can lose 10% of their muscle mass per decade. The functional consequences of this muscle loss are great as listed below:

  1. Reduced strength
  2. Lower Bone density
  3. Risk of falling and fractures
  4. Reduced VO2Max and endurance
  5. Reduction in flexibility and mobility
  6. Reduction in balance thus increasing the risk of falling
  7. Reduces overall independence and quality of life.

The ideal scenario is if one is active when young and maintains a good level of exercise throughout life. In this case, muscle mass will be significantly higher at every age as compared to age-matched sedentary individuals.

It is never too late to start. Previously sedentary adult individuals if adopting strength training late in life are capable of showing remarkable results and adaptation similar to younger counterparts. At any age strength training will result in a significant increase in muscle mass and cross-sectional area of legs and arms. This increase in muscle mass improves strength and endurance. Remarkably, even in the 90s both men and women show improvement in muscle mass and strength. This living even in the ninth decade of life, training help individuals to live a mobile and independent lifestyle delaying the need for assisted living and confinement to a wheelchair.

Osteoporosis

Exercise plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of ‘Osteoporosis’ too. Osteoporosis is the result of a decrease in bone mineral density due to a calcium imbalance. It will result in fragile and brittle bones that can easily get fractured. It affects millions of people worldwide out of which 80 to 90% are women. Risk factors for osteoporosis are many.

Non-modifiable risk factors are:

  • Post-menopausal women are at a greater risk.
  • Family history of Osteoporosis.

There are various modifiable risk factors such as:-

  • Lack of physical activity
  • Low levels of calcium and Vitamin D
  • Smoking
  • Thin body or obesity
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Certain medications are taken for other ailments.
  • Post-menopausal women receiving estrogen replacement therapy can partially reduce the decline as estrogen promotes calcium deposition in bones.

Bone is similar to muscle. Hence when overloaded it will adapt and strengthen. The mechanical stress placed on the bone during repeated muscular contractions will stimulate calcium deposition into the bone and improve bone mineral density and strength. Physical inactivity will have the opposite effect. Inactivity can be compared to astronauts who spend time in zero or reduced gravity lose a significant amount of bone mass and strength. No gravity reduces weight-bearing normal activities too such as walking or moving around. Thus no mechanical stress or stimulus on bone results in the loss.

Running and cycling are good to improve bone density in the legs and spine, it is important to include weight training into your training. Strength and weight training especially in the upper body help cover those bones and muscles which do not get benefitted during aerobic activities.

Detraining will reduce the bone density and muscle mass to base level in some time as per the principle of reversibility.

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