Exercise against ageing

Ageing is more than just wrinkles on the face. Our bodies, too, change as we age — muscles shrink and lose mass; the heart muscle becomes less efficient at pumping blood; metabolic rate (how the body converts food into energy) slows; bones become less dense and more fragile; and joint flexibility decreases.

The result: obesity, raised cholesterol, arthritis and osteoporosis.  Obesity, in turn, may lead to heart disease, cancer and other diseases.  People generally don’t die of old age; we die from diseases.

Healthy ageing is possible. You can turn back the years, scientists say, with regular exercise. Age-related degeneration of bone, muscle, skin, nerves and cells can all be slowed with regular exercise. In one study, patients who already had coronary artery disease reduced their risk of fatal heart complications by 20-25% through exercise.Studies show that even if exercise is initiated late in life, it can still delay the effects of ageing.

What Studies Show:

PHYSICAL inactivity can speed up ageing and lead to the rapid onset of muscle wastage, decreased endurance and loss of flexibility and balance (University of Texas researchers, Behavioural Medicine).

SEDENTARY lifestyle also increases the risk of hip fractures. In a study, women who spent less than 4 hours a day on their feet had nearly twice the risk of hip fractures than their more active counterparts.

EXERCISING 30 minutes a day helps your heart, bones and mind to stay healthy. People who exercise regularly experience about 40% less mental decline as they age compared to sedentary folks.

WALKING, weightlifting, flexibility training and other forms of exercise can help older people avoid the disabilities normally associated with ageing — and even reverse the ageing process itself (University of Texas, US researchers).

Documented: A walking programme for people in their 70s reversed 22 years of declining lung capacity in 22 weeks.  A 12-week weights programme more than doubled the leg muscle strength of some women aged 64 years and over. People who exercised by walking several days a week decreased their risk of disability and improved their ability to climb stairs, stoop, crouch and kneel.

CLINICALLY speaking, people who exercise throughout their lives seem to do a lot better physically at handling the daily activities of life as they head into older age (Dr Chuck McCauley, cardiology department, Marshfield Clinic, Wisconsin, US).

NEVER too late to start: In a study, when sedentary 50-year-olds began exercising for 1 hour a day for 4-5 days a week, their aerobic capacity returned to where it was when they were 20 (“Staying Alive”, Australia’s The Age, 11 March 2004).

Read more about how exercise heals various diseases, how effective Yoga, meditation, Tai Chi and Qigong are and how to exercise for different Iilnesses in the CAP Guide Exercise as Medicine