Monday 9 December 2019

Age-old problem with your body - you either use it or lose it

Photo: PA
Photo: PA

Declan Coyle

Gertrude Weaver of Arkansas celebrated her 116th birthday on July 4 and is the new oldest-living American. What are the chances for the baby-boomers who turned 65 in 2011 of hitting 116 years?

Ageing baby-boomers are smoking and drinking less, but overweight and obesity are on the rise, according to a new report from the US Census Bureau. That’s especially concerning when you consider the many other diseases and disabilities - including arthritis, type-2 diabetes, heart disease and lack of mobility- that can come with excess body weight.

The percentage of overweight and obese Americans 65 and older has grown: 72 per cent of older men and 67 per cent of older women are now overweight or obese.

Did you know that once you hit 40 your body starts ageing faster? Studies have shown that without the proper nutrients and exercise, your body will age about 6 months extra for every year that passes. We see this every day... just look around you.

But the good news is that all of this is reversible at any age?

Exercise plays a key role in slowing down this rapid ageing process. Research shows that many of the changes attributed to ageing are actually caused in large part by disuse. Simply put, it’s not ageing, it’s lack of exercise. It’s back to the old saying about the body, “Use it or lose it; resting is rusting.”

This confirms the wisdom of Dr. William Buchan, the 18th-century Scottish physician who wrote: “Of all the causes which conspire to render a person’s life short and miserable, none have greater influence than the want of proper exercise.”  And about the same time, the British poet John Gay agreed: “Exercise thy lasting youth defends.”

A unique study from Texas shows just how important exercise can be. In 1966, five healthy 20-year-old men volunteered for a research study at the University of Texas. It must have sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime; all they had to do was spend three weeks of their summer holidays resting in bed.

But when they got out of bed at the end of the trial, it probably didn’t seem so good. Testing the men before and after exercise, the researchers found devastating changes that included faster resting heart rates, higher systolic blood pressures, a drop in the heart’s maximum pumping capacity, a rise in body fat, and a fall in muscle strength.

In just three weeks, these 20-year-olds developed many physiologic characteristics of men twice their age.

They had mental and bodily symptoms of 40 year olds. Fortunately, the scientists didn’t stop there. Instead, they put the men on an 8-week exercise programme. Exercise did more than reverse the deterioration brought on by bed rest, since some measurements were better than ever after the training.

To keep your body as young as possible for as long as possible, keep it moving. Hippocrates got it right about 2,400 years ago, explaining: “That which is used develops; that which is not wastes away.”

Regular exercise, along with a good diet, good medical care, good genes, and a bit of luck can slow down the ageing process and help prevent heart disease, cancer, stroke, hypertension, diabetes and osteoporosis. It’s Darwin’s principle: The survival of the fittest.

Exercise, or “Sittercise,” is part of 116 year old Gertrude’s daily routine: “Wheelchair dancing - we chair dance because we can’t get up anymore,” Weaver says, explaining the secret to her long life.

She also adds: “Kindness. Treat people right and be nice to other people the way you want them to be nice to you. The Lord blessed me, I think, because I’m good to my family and good to my children and grandchildren.”

Regular exercise helps people age more slowly and live healthier, more vigorous lives. And it also helps people live longer. Baby-boomers take note and get to enjoy a long and fruitful life.

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