The headlines across the USA this past week that screamed – “Number of Americans living into their 90’s has tripled in the past 3 decades” could have just as easily read – “Watch out – Grandma’s got biceps! Exercise is changing the aging process for millions of Americans in a very positive way.
In a study that appeared in the online scientific peer review journal PLoS, researchers took a look at the effects of six months of strength training in twenty-five elderly volunteers ages 65 and older with an average age of 70. The scientists took small biopsies of thigh-muscle tissue from the seniors before and after the six-month period, then compared them with muscle cells from twenty-six young volunteers with an average age of 22.
“To be honest, we were expecting some indication that the exercise program improved strength,” said biologist Simon Melov, director of genomics at the Buck Institute in Novato, California. What the scientist didn’t expect was that after just six months of resistance training, there were dramatic changes at the genetic level of the seniors.
As Melov puts it, “The genetic finger print of the elderly participants was reversed to that of the younger people – not entirely – but enough to say that their genetic profile was more like that of young people than old people.”
In another study published in the British Medical Journal, Swedish researchers examined how changes in exercise habits after middle-age affected life expectancy among 2,205 men. After ten years, men who had increased their level of physical activity from lower to higher levels achieved the same longevity as men who had begun the study with a high level of activity causing scientists to conclude that becoming physically active has the same impact on longevity as giving up smoking.
If you’re not yet convinced that exercise is the elusive Fountain of Youth, there’s a myriad of studies that have demonstrated that becoming fit lowers your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, obesity and certain cancers – including colon and breast cancer.
However – despite all the positive research – most adults don’t exercise enough to reap any of the benefits of regular exercise. A report from the CDC estimated that 46 percent of Americans over age 50 engaged in no leisure-time exercise and that only 8 percent meet the recommended levels of both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.
Given all the empirical evidence, surely people must want to exercise. I’m thinking the problem has to be that people just don’t know what to do.
Leave it to the government to come to your rescue. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has published its first ever physical activities guidelines. The recommendations for adults include checking in with your doctor prior to starting any exercise program if you have a chronic health problem.
The guidelines suggest moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, five days-a-week and strength train with machines, free weights or resistance bands two days-a-week. The Department also recommends stretching for at least 10 minutes after you exercise and adding exercises to help you maintain or improve your balance.
If the only thing that has been keeping you from exercising is not knowing what to do, log on to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website at www.health.gov/paguidelines and download the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Who knows, you just might discover your very own Fountain of Youth.
Cord Prettyman is a certified Master Personal Trainer and owner of Absolute Workout Fitness and Post-Re-hab Studio in Woodland Park. He can be reached at 687-7437 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.