By: Dr. Darin Stokke, DC (Lifestyles Healthcare Group)
FORT MYERS, FL – Believe it or not, the aging body is capable of much more than we once believed possible. It was held as common knowledge just a generation ago that, like it or not, once we hit our 50’s, our physical capabilities would quickly decline. Yet today we are witnessing the participation in “Masters” sports (often defined as over the age of 40) as the fastest-growing segment of sport participation in North America. This has actually given us valuable insight into how exercise affects the aging body.
Some of the unfortunate effects of aging we know occur include a decrease in balance sensation including slower reaction times, a decrease in the thirst reflex, a decrease in spine flexion by 20 percent by age 70, a decrease in muscle strength after age 40 declining faster in the lower body than upper body, a decrease in height by 1 centimeter a decade after age 40, a decrease in maximum heart rate by 0.7 beats a minute each year, and a decrease in bone density by 0.5 percent a year after the age of 40 and 2 to 3 percent per year for women after menopause. In fact one of the only things that seems to increase with age is deep visceral body fat increasing in our body between the ages of 30 to 60. But things don’t have to seem so bleak with age. Research is now showing that every one of these changes slows down dramatically with exercise. And it’s not just the obvious physical ailments that exercise fights off. Better circulation to the brain helps delay mental decline and, at a microscopic level, exercise appears to slow the aging of our cells. Research is also showing that conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts are all reduced in those who regularly exercise. Thanks to the numerous studies that have been performed we now know that exercise is the most powerful anti-aging tactic we have. The truth is, if you don’t use it, you will inevitably lose it so keeping the body moving from a young age all the way through to our later years is critical to slowing the aging process as well as improving our quality of life.
So, what exercise is best for us as we age? For increasing the health of our bones and increasing bone density, research is showing that weight bearing activities – those in which we are standing and supporting our own weight rather than seated, are key. In fact, weight lifting with dumbbells may be the best, not only for our bones, but for our muscles and hormones as well. It turns out that training our bones has more in common with training our muscles than previously thought. To decrease the effects of aging on our DNA research is showing that aerobic exercise is the choice. Vigorous aerobic exercise has been shown to make our DNA look several decades younger than it actually is. Younger DNA means younger and more adaptable cells in our body. Vigorous aerobic exercise can range from running and biking to swimming and using an elliptical machine.
The most common reasons many people give for not exercising is not having enough time, not knowing where to start and having chronic joint pain or spinal related pain. The first excuse is really a priority issue. Exercise does not need to take long and in fact can be done in 30 minutes or less each day. The second issue may require some research or hiring a personal trainer or coach to guide you through the beginning stages of putting together a program that’s right for you based upon your goals and current health level. Research is also showing that the final issue of pain stopping you from working out is wrong thinking. According to research, moving our joints and spine actually helps decrease pain sensation as well as keeps our joints healthy. However, pain is nothing to ignore and is our body’s way of letting us know a problem exists. Before starting any exercise program, especially for those over the age of 40, getting an evaluation from a healthcare provider experienced in body movement and joint health is recommended. Addressing dysfunctional movement patterns and muscle imbalances must be done first before jumping into an aggressive exercise program. Also, getting an evaluation of cardiac health is also recommended especially for those who have a family history of heart disease.
The most important thing to consider is to simply start. A journey of 1000 miles begins with 1 step. Take the first step today and start. Find exercises and activities that you enjoy and can fit into your schedule. Start slow, set goals and make it a point to create a habit of moving every day. And finally, don’t ignore pain. Find out the cause of the pain rather than cover up the symptoms so that you can enjoy exercise and enjoy an optimal quality of life.