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The Benefits of Exercise Over 50

by Louis J. Wasser

Americans are obsessed with youth. Correction! Americans are obsessed by the idea of youth. We’re preoccupied with how to appear young and how to act young.  Particularly the over-50 set — we’ll wear age-inappropriate clothes, and do 5K runs when we’re out of condition and our bodies say “no.” 

But we’ll sit all week to accomplish tasks we tell ourselves are really important.  In fact, we’ll simply let our bodies go to seed. Face it: despite everything we read and despite everything our doctors warned us about, the diet can wait till Monday. We are a nation of overeaters and couch potatoes. We’re candidates for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.

Yet the single most important thing we can do to turn the clock back and keep the nursing home at bay is what we refuse to do, and that’s exercise. Oh sure, every January we’ll show up at the gym and sign up for a personal trainer who’ll put us on a routine. But a few weeks into the year, we’re back on the couch and saying “yes” to the extra glass of beer with the gang after work. 

Here are six benefits to exercise that the over-50 crowd stands to gain:

1.     Increased Strength
Yes, you can get stronger as you get older. According to Edward R. Laskowski, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center. “Strength training can help you preserve and enhance your muscle mass — at any age.” Studies have shown that muscular strength can diminish by as much as 15% in one’s 60s and 70s.

2.     Increased Flexibility
How embarrassing and surprising when friends have you over for dinner and you find yourself shouting “ouch” when you reach for that plate of dessert or stand up from the table. Even a harmless activity like reaching gets more difficult as we age and cut back on exercise. Using muscles in a regular exercise program helps keeps muscles and joints more flexible in the elderly.

3.     Greater Endurance
Regular aerobic activities, like running or bicycling, build lung capacity and therefore endurance. In fact, a disciplined daily walking routine will accomplish the same thing.  Make no mistake: greater endurance spills over to your work routine, and makes you a stronger employee and a less-exhausted business owner.

4.     Improved Balance
According to webmd.com, as people age, they’re more likely to fall due to decreased muscle strength.  And don’t kid yourself: you don’t have to be outside running or at the gym to fall. Every day, you’ll find emergency rooms full of 60-and-70-year-olds who somehow managed to fall at home.

5.     Enhanced Mood
According to a study at The University of Austin, “a 16-week exercise intervention found exercise to be as effective as antidepressants in treating older patients with depression.”  Need we say more?

And … guess what! … we know this is what you’ve been waiting to hear:

6.     Exercise Helps Promote Longevity
According to a New York Times article by Gretchen Reynolds, the Proceedings of The National Academy published research in 2011 which showed that “exercise reduced or eliminated every effect of aging in mice that had been genetically programmed to grow old at an accelerated pace.”

While we’re not mice, we would do well to heed the results of this study. So don’t wait till next week for a personal trainer to fit you into his busy schedule.  Head outside now and take a brisk walk. 

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