Growing Younger By Keeping Up Regular Physical Activity

February 02, 1999

Walking, weightlifting, 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.

Some decline in physical ability is an inevitable result of normal aging, but inactivity can hasten this decline and result in all-too-rapid rates of muscle 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.

Reporting in the winter issue of Behavioral Medicine, the researchers cite numerous studies that demonstrate the benefits of exercise on the aging process, including:

Older people not only can slow down aging by maintaining regular physical activity but also prevent chronic conditions, say Markides and colleagues.

A sedentary 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 controls.

The researchers report that patients who already have coronary artery disease can reduce their risk of death from a cardiac event by 20 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.

A sedentary lifestyle also increases the risk for hip fractures, they say. 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 active counterparts.
Behavioral Medicine is a quarterly journal edited and peer-reviewed by an international team of scientists who research the linkages between human behavior and health. For information about the journal, contact Executive Editor C. David Jenkins, Ph.D., at 919-968-0704.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health, For information about the Cetner, contact, 202-387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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