Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
George Burns (who lived to be 100) used to say, "If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!" It's true that some individuals are blessed with good genes, and no matter how many unhealthy lifestyle habits they have, they're going to live into old age. But for the rest of us who might be concerned with quality of life as we age, exercise is one of the keys. Is it ever too late to start? Research proves it's not. In this article, I'll discuss the benefits of exercising into old age and then give you some tips on how to get started no matter how old you are.
The aging population
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, by the year 2030, the number of individuals in the United States 65 years and over will reach 70 million, and people 85 years and older will be the fastest growing segment of the population. Some of you may already be there, while others may be approaching. But whatever your age, exercise can be beneficial. Below is a description of what happens to our bodies as we age and how exercise can make all the difference.
What happens to muscles as we age?
As many of us have already noticed, muscle mass decreases as we age. Beginning in the fourth decade of life, adults lose 3%-5% of muscle mass per decade, and the decline increases to 1%-2% per year after age 50. Muscle keeps us strong, it burns calories and helps us maintain our weight, and it
is also an essential contributor to our balance and bone strength. Without it, we can lose our independence and our mobility.
Is it ever too late to build muscle?
The good news is that muscle mass can increase at any age in response to exercise. In an important study of weight lifting and older adults conducted with 100 male and female residents of a nursing home in Boston (age range: 72 to 98 years of age; average age 87), subjects lifted weights with their legs three times a week for 10 weeks. At the end of the study, there was an increase in thigh mass of 2.7%, walking speed increased 12%, and leg strength increased a whopping 113%! In a similar study of adults 65-79 years old, subjects who lifted weights three times a week for three months increased their walking endurance by 38% (from 25 minutes to 34 minutes) without appreciable increases in mass. Ida Weiss, a 91-year-old participant in the Boston study, had the following to say after the study, "It's very beneficial for me. Things that I couldn't do when I came here, I can do now. I didn't think that I was going to live anymore, but I feel different now."
Exercise can be invigorating and help build muscle mass at any age.
Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
ATLANTA -- Among older people, osteoporosisis a common
disorder. It is characterized by fragile bones due to
reduced bone mass (density). The fragile bones tend to
Research has found that bone mass can be
increased in older women by physical activity. To determine
whether physical activity can actually reduce the risk for
broken hips, a large multicenter study was done. Nearly
10,000 women over 65 years of age were evaluated. The
results of this important prospective (forward looking)
study appeared in the July 15,1998 issue of the Annals of
Dr. Edward W. Gregg of the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention and his colleagues at medical centers
throughout the United States studied the women for an
average of 7.6 years and found that higher levels of
leisure time, sport activity, and heavy household chores
and fewer hours of sitting daily were associated with a
significantly reduced risk of broken (fractured) hip bones.
Further, Dr. Gregg's group found that women who were
very active and engaged in activities such as tennis or
aerobic dance had the greatest (36%) reduction in hip
fractures. Moreover, women who did lower-intensity
activities such as walking, gardening, or social dancing
for at least an hour a week also had significant reduction
of risk for hip fractures.