Ageless-how a lifetime of exercise keeps you young

Count yourself lucky if you’ve exercised most of your life, as you haven’t aged much. Hippocrates said it best in 400 BC, in that exercise is the best medicine. Two new research papers published last week in Aging Cells set out to assess the health of older adults who had exercised most of their adult lives and found that they hadn’t aged much. They hadn’t lost muscle mass, strength, or increase their body fat or cholesterol levels. The men in the study may have even avoided most of the male menopause, as their testosterone levels also remained high.

The study participants were man and female amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79 and underwent a series of tests in the lab and compared to a sedentary group of adults. This group included healthy people aged 57 to 80, and another group of healthy young adults aged 24 to 36. A surprise finding was that the benefits of exercise went beyond muscle, as their immune system did not seem to age. Immune cells, called T cells, are made in the thymus, which starts to shrink, at the age of 20. The study found that the cyclists were making as many T cells as would be expected from those of a young person.

Their research debunks the assumption that aging automatically makes us more frail, and that as a society, we shouldn’t have to accept that old age and disease comes next.

“There’s strong evidence that encouraging people to commit to regular exercise throughout their lives is a viable solution to the problem that we are living longer, but not healthier, Janet Lord, the director of the Institute of Inflammation and Aging at the University of Birmingham, said in a statement. What’s compelling about the research is that the cyclist’s didn’t cycle because they are healthy, but that they are healthy because they have been exercising for most of their lives.

It’s well known that exercise impacts nearly every system in the body, and there’s no more encouraging news in that the brain also benefits, both physiologically and psychologically. If you are still on the couch about starting or getting more exercise, exercise can enhance and protect brain function. We all want that as we age. When you exercise, at the cellular level, the brain is drenched with serotonin, glutamate, norepinephrine, dopamine and growth hormones Mood, anxiety, attention, stress, aging, and hormonal changes in men and women can all be positively affected. A staggering network of 100 billion neurons, each of what might have up to 100 thousand inputs, all are stimulated to spur new growth.

We need these neurons in the brain to last the 80 plus years of a lifetime.  With exercise, not only can you stay young, but also gene expression in the hippocampus, a brain region responsible for learning and memory, can benefit. We can all benefit by being pro-active, by exercising for body and brain health. It’s never too late to start.

Preventing Tripping and Falling As You Age

Falls can be traumatic after a certain age. My father passed away from complications from a fall, one of the most common causes of severe brain injury. He hit his head while helping my mother get groceries out of their car one morning. As tragic as my family’s loss, falls happens all too often in people over 65; The Center for Disease Control reports that 1 out of 3 people over 65 will suffer falls and that they are the leading cause of injury death. Twenty -30% percent of fallers suffer the inconvenience of hip, pelvis or spine fractures that not only make it harder for them to get around, but chips away at their self-confidence. Recent studies show that strength training alone is not enough to prevent falls and improve balance among the elderly. It certainly is important to retain muscle strength as you age, because in your 50’s your strength starts to decline at a rate of 12-15% per year. But could it be that older people trip and stumble more often or is it because they are less able to recover balance after a stumble or trip? Is it because their balance is off? In a study on the prevention of falling in older folks, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research February 2011 stressed the importance of not only power and quadriceps strength, but balance training also.

Swing , sway and stand

A lot of factors, like falling history, muscle weakness, eyesight, number of medications, arthritis,fear of falling and home hazards all contribute to fitness decline and falls. During the actual fall, the study demonstrated that lack of lower leg strength predisposes them to fall. Their “swing phase “is off; their thighs aren’t strong enough to allow them to regain their balance. This means these older people end up taking too many small steps or arm reactions and end up tripping.

For a simple balance exercise try rising up on your toes, keeping your weight aligned over your big and second toe. This trains the sensory, or balance receptors in your ankle and foot. These muscles send out important sensory information to control standing balance. An exercise such as toe-raises, for example, trains the sensorimotor inputs, all providing valuable information about body position with respect to the supporting surface.

Stepping down off a small step is a good exercise as the study showed that the down phase of stepping in this age group is altered because of very tight ankle muscles. Stepping up onto a step is an example of a strengthening move to help strengthen the whole lower body. Although not a chipper subject, The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 4 preventative measures to avoid falls. 1. No matter how old you are, stay active 2.Make your home safer, by removing clutter from stairways and doorways, for example. Almost half of falls happen at home. 3.Have your doctor review your medications for side-effects. Some medications can make you light-headed or drowsy, which can lead to a fall.4.Have your eyes or eyeglasses checked. Poor vision can increase your risk of falling.

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Specialist and IDEA Elite certified personal trainer. She is located at the YMCA in Ketchum, Idaho