A recent edition of The Washington Post’s “Lean and Fit” e-newsletter affirmed what all of us already should know: Exercise is critical to good health especially as we age, and most of us can and should exercise every day no matter how old we are.
Columnist Lenny Bernstein profiled 70-year-old Dan Durante, who issued a pull-up challenge to students at a small-town high school as a fundraiser for its football team. Durante did 39 pull-ups in 53 seconds; the best any of the students could do was 21.
Writer Jeanne Erdmann featured her mother, Florence Greco, who began working with a trainer at age 85 and who now at age 98 continues her weekly fitness routine. Erdmann references studies that exercise slows one’s physical decline, benefits people at any age, increases blood flow to the brain and lowers the risks of vascular dementia. Exercise is “the best medicine no one wants to do,” Cleveland Clinic gerontologist Ronan Factora told Erdmann. Even tiny bites of fitness bring big rewards, Erdmann adds, quoting a 2011 study that showed even 15 minutes of walking a day can add three to five years of life.
“I tell my elderly patients that it doesn’t take very much exercise to benefit them,” Factora said. “We’re not talking about breaking a sweat. I’m not asking you to run a marathon. I’m just asking you to get up and move.”
Sadly, according to the National Institute on Aging, only 11 percent of people 85 and older engage in any regular exercise, Bernstein reports. Regular strength training, such as Durante’s pull-ups, are especially beneficial as we age, when sarcopenia – the natural decline in muscle mass and strength – cause some of the most troubling yet preventable issues of old age. According to the institute’s website, “Increased physical activity has been linked to numerous health benefits, including improved cardiovascular and respiratory health, insulin sensitivity, bone and muscle strength, and cognitive function. In addition, physical activity is associated with reductions in coronary heart disease, stroke, some cancers, type 2 diabetes, and depression.”
Those sound like a pile of problems we’d all like to avoid, and most of us have the power to do so with even just a moderate amount of exercise per day. As we look forward to a new year, let’s resolve to keep our sneakers laced up, our pins moving and our blood flowing.