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Reap the Benefits of Exercise at Any Age

One of the many disadvantages of the pandemic is that so many people dropped their regular healthy routines: regular medical tests, healthy eating patterns, trips to the gym or even mall walking.

If this happened to you, our primary care doctors in Delray Beach want to assure you that you can hop right back on a healthy track. And one of the best places to start is with movement.

But what if you’ve never been into exercise? No matter. It’s never too late to realize the benefits.

One study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology tracked the progress of 33,000 Swedish men from 1998 to 2012 who began exercising at an average of age 60. They reduced their risk of heart failure by 21 percent.

Another study, published in the journal BMJ, found that middle-aged and older adults (ages 40 to 79 in the study), including those with cardiovascular disease and cancer, “can gain substantial longevity benefits by becoming more physically active, irrespective of past physical activity levels and established risk factors.”

In other words, everyone at any age can improve their health through exercise.

Exercise: the best medicine

According to the Mayo Clinic, some examples of the types of disorders that can be alleviated by exercise include:

  • Heart disease: In addition to strengthening the heart muscle and lowering blood pressure, exercise can help you be more active without experiencing chest pain or other symptoms.
  • Diabetes: Regular exercise can not only help insulin more effectively lower your blood sugar level, but help control weight and boost energy.
  • Back pain: Regular low-impact aerobic exercise can help increase the strength of your back muscles and improve endurance and muscle function.
  • Arthritis: Exercise is the primary approach to reduce pain, help maintain muscle strength in affected joints and reduce joint stiffness.
  • Asthma: Exercise has been shown to control the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.

Other conditions that have been shown to benefit from exercise: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), intermittent claudication (leg cramps while walking), depression, osteoarthritis, dementia, gallstones, diverticulitis, peripheral vascular disease, and as many as 12 kinds of cancer.

In those who have had transient ischemic attacks, or mini-strokes, exercise has been shown to improve blood flow to the brain and diminish the risk of a full-blown stroke.

Never too late

Jonathan Bean, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, told Harvard Health the story of a 101-year-old man who wanted to be able to wheel his own wheelchair down the hall the read the newspaper. So the man began training with weights.

“He got to the point where he could use a walker and go down and read the newspaper,” thus far surpassing his original goal, according to Bean.

“My mother goes out into a breezeway at the senior living facility where she lives in Florida and walks down and back several times a day,” Eduardo Sanchez, chief medical officer for prevention with the American Heart Association (AHA), told the Dallas Morning News recently.

“If my 87-year-old mother can step outside and do that, everybody can do it and feel good about doing it,” he added. “It’s never too late to start.”

Take it easy

The best thing about exercise is that it doesn’t require a two-hour daily trip to the gym to reap the benefits.

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology confirmed numerous earlier studies that found any regular movement can result in improved health. It showed that replacing just 30 minutes of sedentary time with 30 minutes of light physical activity was associated with a 17 percent lower risk of early death.

“If you replace 30 minutes of sitting time with 30 minutes of light-intensity physical activity—so something like a casual stroll down the hall—that can lower your risk,” Keith Diaz, a certified exercise physiologist and assistant professor of behavioral medicine at New York’s Columbia University Medical Center, told CNN. Diaz was lead author of the study.

“Some exercise is better than none,” Pedro F. Saint-Maurice, told The Washington Post. He was the lead researcher for a JAMA Network Open study that found previously inactive adults ages 50 to 71 had a 35 percent lower mortality risk with just four to seven hours of activity per week.

If exercise has always been a foreign concept to you, it’s important to begin a routine slowly. And to check with us before starting.

All movement counts

The best news is that it doesn’t take much exercise to reap the benefits. Updated guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) now encourage any kind of movement of any kind that can add up to the recommended weekly total of 150 minutes.

So now, according to the new federal guidelines, housework counts, as does walking up and downstairs during a commercial break on television or dancing vigorously to a favorite tune or walking your dog or gardening.

According to the new guidelines, “All activities count. Bouts [of exercise] of any length contribute to the health benefits associated with the accumulated volume of physical activity.”

The key is to gradually increase your activities until they become part of your lifestyle.

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