January 28, 2020 by Ana Belzarena Genovese M.D.
Lifelong Benefits of Exercise: Can 75 Be the New 45?
As part of a new major study of lifelong exercisers, researchers have found that those in their mid-70s who have been active for most of their lives have similar cardiovascular health as 40- to 45-year-olds.
The benefits of regular exercise, involving both aerobics and strength-training routines, have long been established as helping prevent chronic conditions, including heart disease and diabetes. Moreover, in increasing volume of studies have found that regular exercise and weight management can help prevent many cancers.
“Regular exercise can help slow down cognitive decline as we age,” said Rozan Razzouk, M.D., a family medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care. “Physical activity can help sharpen the mind, as well as minimizing or preventing chronic disease such as diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and overall heart disease.”
In the newest study, the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University, in Muncie Indiana, headed by exercise physiologist Scott Trappe, divided 70 healthy participants into three groups.
The Three Groups
Those in the first group, or the lifelong exercise group, were 75 years old, on average, and mainly kept their hearts healthy by running and cycling regularly. They had a history of taking part in structured exercise routines four to six days a week — for a total of about seven hours a week.
The second group included individuals who were also, on average, 75 years old. But the second group did not engage in exercise regimens like the first group. This group might engage in occasional leisure walking or golf.
The third group consisted of young exercisers who were, on average, 25 years old and worked out with the same frequency and length of time as the lifelong exercisers.
The findings were published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, concluding that lifelong exercise can substantially benefit both muscle health and the heart.
The results were striking. “Lifelong exercisers had a cardiovascular system that looked 30 years younger,” Trappe told NPR. “This is noteworthy because, for the average adult, the ability to process oxygen declines by about 10 percent per decade after age 30.”
Muscle Health Also Benefits
Researchers also found that the health of the muscles of lifelong 75-year-old exercisers was about the same as the muscles of those who were 25 years old. And this muscle health is primarily the result of performing aerobic exercises regularly for decades. “These data suggest that skeletal muscle metabolic fitness may be easier to maintain with lifelong aerobic exercise than more central aspects of the cardiovascular system,” the study states.
A common myth about seniors and physical activity is that it’s too late for exercise to make a difference in one’s health. As long as you are able, exercise can improve the body and mind, and prevent chronic conditions from developing or worsening. Studies have found that even in people living in nursing homes and in their 90s can benefit from some exercise to boost muscle strength. Daily casual walks or cycling can also benefit older adults.
“It’s always important for seniors to get their regular checkups, and if they have any doubts, to consult with their doctor about starting an exercise program,” said Dr. Razzouk. “With a doctor’s assistance, they can determine how much they can tolerate.”
Guidelines for Adults 65 and Older
If you are 65 years of age or older, are generally fit and have no limiting health conditions, you can follow these guidelines, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Two hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and;
- Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).