Exercise and longevity: How to live to 100

As a personal trainer specializing in older, active adults, I am continually amazed by the effects of regular exercise on aging bodies. I have clients in their 70s who outperform people in their 30s, a client in his 80s who walks 50 miles a week and a 65-year-old client who competes in body-building shows.

People who exercise have a better outlook on life, less depression, bounce back quicker from illness and have more energy to do fun and enjoyable activities. Exercise also contributes to a better sex life and can make people less susceptible to age-related diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Physical changes after 50 can be attributed to two things: normal aging and disease-related aging. Exercise has been shown to reduce the effects of both types. Here are a few reasons why.

1. Strength maintenance. Normal aging results in a gradual loss of muscle mass. This loss is about 1 percent per year once you reach your 40s. This loss is totally preventable by lifting weights on a regular basis. Having more muscle allows you to be more functional in everyday tasks. You have stronger legs and better balance, which helps to prevent falls that can lead to major fractures and even death among the elderly.

2. Cardiovascular health. Over time, artery walls become stiffer because their chemical composition changes. This stiffening causes changes in blood pressure that puts a strain on the heart. Regular aerobic exercise changes and can even reverse that process. If you can get off the couch, it may be possible to get off medication and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

3. Diabetes risk. As we age, blood glucose control becomes less robust, making us more insulin-resistant and increasingly susceptible to diabetes. People tend to gain weight as they age, further increasing the risk of developing the disease. During aerobic exercise, muscles take up glucose from the blood and use it for fuel, keeping blood-sugar levels low. It also decreases the production of insulin, a major fat-storing hormone.

4. Inflammation control. This condition, blamed for almost every major modern disease, worsens as we age. It is worsened by extra weight, which is caused, in part, by our sugar- and starch-heavy diets. It increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, lowers immune-system function and paves the way for viruses and bad bacteria to take hold — even causing cancer cells to grow. Exercise reduces C-reactive protein, a marker for bad inflammation and for coronary disease/heart attack. A study in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society showed that men and women ages 70-79 who exercised had lower markers of inflammation than their sedentary counterparts — and live longer as a result!

5. Brain health. A recent study from the Journal of Neuroradiology found that older adults who did a minimum of 180 minutes a week of activity — everything from walking to gardening to aerobic exercise — had more small-diameter blood vessels with less twisting than a less-active group who did 90 minutes or less of activity each week. The vessels of the more active group had a pattern similar to younger people. Brain function improves, memory is better and onset of dementia is significantly reduced in those people who do higher levels of intense exercise like running, cycling and calisthenics.

Humans are creatures designed for movement and activity from cradle to grave. Our modern lifestyle has engineered the activity out of our lives with disastrous results. The statistics on obesity and ill health demonstrate that many of us are dying prematurely from totally preventable causes.

Physical activity can only improve the quality of your life as well as extend your quantity of life. Find some type of activity that works for you and your lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be a gym or traditional exercise class. Just get out and hike, ride, walk, swim, do yoga or hire a personal trainer.

Bottom line: Eat moderately, exercise mindfully and live whole-heartedly.

Jim Hart is a personal trainer and the author of “Personal Trainer Secrets for Men Over 40.” Download his book free of charge at www.hartbody.com. Terri Clark, MPH, CHES, prevention services coordinator for ActionAIDS, and Heshie Zinman, long-time community health activist, are co-chairs of the LGBT Elder Initiative. To comment on this article or for more information about the LGBTEI, visit www.lgbtelderinitiative.blogspot.com and watch for “Gettin’ On” each month in PGN.

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