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Exercise: The Magic Pill

“Never get old.” Those three little words which I, as a physical therapist not yet in my thirties, hear on a near daily basis from my more experienced patients, has really got me thinking lately. Why do so many patients tell me to never get older?

As a society, we associate aging with decreased mobility, decreased energy, and daily aches and pains. We should view aging in a better light. Getting older is building relationships, careers, families, and making memories. Would you believe me if I told you that we have figured out the secret to aging gracefully, not painfully? Most of you don’t believe me, while the rest of you are rolling your eyes because what does a twenty-nine year old know about aging, right? While I may not know firsthand the effects of aging, but research doesn’t lie. Physical activity is the key to FEELING younger than you are.

What Counts as Physical Activity

Sadly, only 21% of American’s are meeting the World Health Organization’s MINIMUM standard for physical activity (1). It is recommended that adults should complete 150 minutes of moderate physical activity OR 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week (2). Don’t mistake physical activity for exercise. While exercise is, in fact, physical activity, you do not need to be hitting the gym five days a week to achieve this standard. Going for a brisk walk, gardening, cleaning the house, dancing, playing backyard games, or planned exercise all count as physical activity. Vigorous activity includes a challenging bike ride, running, or participating in sports. Along with aerobic activity, it is also recommended that a regular program of resistance exercise should be completed two days a week.

Why is this important?

Physical activity is the fundamental ingredient in remaining mobile, strong, and independent as we age. Meeting the WHO’s physical activity standard will reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and various types of cancer (3). If that is not enough motivation alone, older adults who complete a least 150 minutes of physical activity each week report improved energy, better self-esteem, and are less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression (3).

Don’t forget about the magic power of resistance exercise either. Yoga, pilates, tia chi, exercises with weights, body weight, or resistance bands all count toward meeting your resistance activity for the week. Most importantly, keeping up with your strength training is the best thing you can do for yourself to maintain your mobility and hobbies as you age. A resistance training study conducted involving 50 older men and women saw participants increase muscle strength by 113 percent, routine walking speed 12 percent, and stair climbing power 26 percent in as little as eight weeks(4).

Trust me, those numbers matter to you. Increased strength translates into getting up from the floor with ease after playing with your grandkids, continuing to play in your weekly golf league, walking around the block without fear of falling, and being able to get up from the sofa without a helping hand.

It’s never too late

These numbers can be achieved at any age, it is never too late to get started. Blair et. al determined that previously sedentary men, who became fit over a five year period reduced their risk of death from ANY cause by 44% (5). Another study had older adults (average age 80) complete twelve weeks of weight training exercise three times a week. At the start they tested their balance, walking speed, and ability to stand from a chair. After completing the exercise program, participants scored as if they were ten years younger (6)! Who doesn’t want to be ten years younger?!?

The take-home message here is to get out and move. Find something you enjoy doing, find a partner, and just get started. If you are unsure how to get started, contact your doctor, meet with a trained fitness instructor, or take advantage of Buffalo Rehab Groups FREE discovery visit. Click the link below to schedule your free discovery visit with a physical therapist.

1. Center for Disease Control. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/p0502-physical-activity.html
2. “Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health.” Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health, World Health Organization, 2010, pp. 58–59
3. Warburton, Darren E.R, et al. “Health Benefits of Physical Activity: the Evidence.” Canadian Medical Association. Journal, vol. 174, no. 6, Mar. 2006, pp. 801–809.
4. Hazell, Tom, Kenji Kenno, and Jennifer Jaboki. “Functional Benefit of Power Training for Older Adults.” Journal of Aging and Physical Activity 15 (2007): 349-59. Web.
5. Blair SN, Kohl HW III, Barlow CE, et al. Changes in physical fitness and all-cause mortality. A prospective study of healthy and unhealthy men. JAMA 1995;273:1093-8
6.Wolfson, Leslie, Robert Whipple, Carol Derby, James Judge, Mary King, Paula Amerman, Julia Schmidt, and Donna Smyers. “Balance and Strength Training in Older Adults: Intervention Gains and Tai Chi Maintenance.”Journal of American Geriatric Society 44 (1996): 498-506. Web.



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