It may sound too good to be true, but the fact is, keeping fit and active is one of the best ways to keep your body lean and mind sharp even into old age.
By Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD
Like it or not, every one of us is getting older. The good news is that many of the signs of aging—achy joints, weight gain, declines in neurological function and fatigue—are associated with a less-than-healthy diet and lack of exercise. The good news is that research is showing that a healthy diet and exercise can help add life to your years—no matter how many candles are on your birthday cake!
Here are six facts about fitness and aging and what you can do to keep a step ahead of your age, from Dr. William Evans, an exercise physiologist and adjunct professor at Duke University Department of Medicine. Use them to psych yourself up to improve your fitness and reverse the ill-effects of aging before 2014 even begins!
The average person loses about 1% of their fitness per year. Aerobic capacity goes down, particularly after age 60. Staying active helps maintain a slighter higher ability to uptake oxygen than a non-athlete, but the rate of loss is the same. The best way to help maintain your aerobic capacity is to do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that requires training at or near your maximal oxygen consumption for short periods of time. Think high intensity not high volume to get the best fitness gains. Tabata-style training or CrossFit are examples of high-intensity interval training.
We lose muscle as we age, starting as young as age 20, with a steady decline year after year. To treat this age-related loss of muscle, you need to lift weights or do other forms of resistance exercise. Yet, even strong athletes still lose some muscle with aging.
Body fat secretes adipokines (hormones) that have negative effects on muscle strength and contributes to increased inflammation, particularly after ages 60 to 70. Inflammation leads to heart disease and diabetes. Hence, fatness can be a powerful predictor of disability in people ages 50 to 75. Stay lean!
Muscle loss is the key reason why older people become frail and end up in nursing homes. When they stop exercising, they experience a steep drop in strength. The good news is they can do something about frailty: lift weights! In only12 weeks, 60- to 70-year-old men regained the fitness they had lost over 15 years.
Most strength gains occur in the first 3 months of starting a lifting program due to early neuromuscular changes. The nervous system learns how to recruit muscles more efficiently and this stimulates more muscle cells.
Strength training helps prevent bone loss. In a year-long study with post-menopausal women, all of the women who lifted weights improved their bone health. Those who did not lift weights lost ~2% bone density in one year. Exercise is better than osteoporosis drugs—plus, you’ll get stronger!
Here’s to good healthy and activity so you can enjoy “the golden years” sooner or later.
Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark MS RD, author of the best-selling Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, has a private practice in the Boston-area. See www.nancyclarkrd.com for more information. For more information about the Nancy Clark and Bill Evans sports nutrition workshop, follow this link.