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Keep mind and body strong as you age

Doris Dell Heitler, 72, demonstrates exercises on the patio of her St. Petersburg home.

Published September 26, 2006

Are you feeling a little dragged out, tired of hearing about the importance of exercise in your life and even more tired of the exercise itself? Wondering about what Dr. David Lipschitz is talking about, in the cover story this month, when he cites the need to exercise to have a better quality of life as you age?

Or perhaps exercising simply has become a chore for you.

If any of these issues has become a concern, here's some information that might help you turbocharge what has become a dull fitness routine - and answer the question, "Why am I doing this?"

HEART PERFORMANCE: The heart is a muscle, and like any other, if it isn't properly maintained through exercise, it can become sluggish.

When you begin to exercise, the muscles utilize oxygen at a much higher rate, requiring the heart to pump more oxygenated blood. Through a progressive overload of aerobic exercise, a positive training effect will take place: As the heart adapts to the increased demands of the exercise, it becomes capable of pumping out more blood with each beat.

When the exercise stops and the stronger heart muscle does not have to work so hard, your resting heart rate is lowered.

Cardio exercise will also help to keep arteries clean by raising the level of HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, which is often termed the "good" cholesterol because it is believed to protect against diseases of the arteries. That, in turn, reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Studies have shown that for every milligram rise in HDL, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease falls by 2 to 3 percent. Other benefits from exercising the heart include reduction of blood pressure and an increase of the total number of red blood cells, which helps to transport oxygen throughout the body.

MUSCLE TONE: We involve our muscular system in every move we make. With the appropriate exercise, muscles can become stronger, and conversely, without the proper stimuli they can become weak and smaller.

It is estimated that by age 65, people who do not do any strength exercises will lose up to 50 percent of their muscle mass and therefore muscular strength. And loss of muscle mass correlates with a reduction in metabolism, which in turn results in fewer calories being burned in the muscles.

Muscular fitness has two components: strength and endurance. You need both to maintain good health as you age. Muscular strength is the strength it takes to lift an object, and muscular endurance is how many times you can lift that object.

When you strengthen your muscles, you are also strengthening the bones, tendons and ligaments they involve. When bones become weak, even the most simple movement can cause a fracture.

So while improved muscle tone will likely result in improved appearance and posture, more importantly you will increase bone mineral density and flexibility. Your energy and strength to carry on daily activities will rise. A plus for seniors is that improved muscle tone means a reduced risk of falling, which can enhance the ability to live independently.

MENTAL STIMULATION: Researchers at the Aging Research Center of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have found that exercising at least twice weekly in midlife reduces the risk of dementia by more than 50 percent and the risk of Alzheimer's disease by more than 60 percent.

It seems that much of the cognitive decline that we blame on aging is actually a result of our sedentary living.

As authors Gilles O. Einstein and Mark A. McDaniel note in their Memory Fitness: A Guide to Successful Aging (Yale University Press, 2004): "When it comes to maximizing both your physical and mental functioning, it is downright risky behavior not to exercise."

And in the past 10 years, neuroscientists have given us good news concerning the positive changes that occur in the brain after physical activity. We now know that brain cells can be rejuvenated.


If you are over 50 and are not used to exercising, check with your physician before beginning ANY exercise program. Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. Write her in care of Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

[Last modified September 26, 2006, 09:32:57]

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