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Your Health & Wellness, Iss #76 -- Growing Older Without Going Downhill
July 06, 2011

(Guide to a Healthy Lifestyle)

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Growing Older Without Going Downhill

I remember when I became eligible to become an AARP member; it was 2001 when I turned 50.

Being the eldest of ten siblings, I naturally was the first to hit the big 5-OH - the half century mark.

My brothers and sisters all called to congratulate me for having reached 50 years of age. And as we are basically ten stairsteps (a child born every year,) I saw one of my siblings turn 50 over the next several years.

Another decade has passed and I will reach another milestone this October - my 60th birthday. I am looking forward to this birthday even more excitedly than I did my 50th. I have no idea why though.

I am still in good health at this stage of my life. I am prescription and non-prescription medication-free, and take no over-the-counter drugs. I presently have no health issues.

To be totally honest with you, I don't even get an occassional headache or stomach-ache.

Part of my exemplary health is due no doubt to my being physically active. I began jogging in the early '70s and started strength training on a consistent basis in 1978.

The body changes for the worse when it reaches the chronological age of 50. The metabolism and hormones which fire at peak efficiency in your youth start to slow down and become sluggish.

A healthy lifestyle is a proven way to overturn the ravages of age. This lifestyle includes nutrition - and what has been missing from the American way of life for decades - exercise.

Pamela Peeke, M.D., a University of Maryland researcher and author of Body for Life for Women (Rodale, 2005,) says:

"So many of what we thought were symptoms of aging, are actually symptoms of disuse ... Our bodies are built for obsolenscence after 50. Up to 50 you can get away with not exercising; after that, you start paying the price."

The primary part of the body which undergoes the greatest amount of disuse with age are the muscles. The time- tested cliche, use it or lose it, is particularly true.

"Unless you do resistance exercise - strength training with weights or elastic bands - you lose six pounds of muscle a decade," says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., the highly respected fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Muscle loss or atrophy is the natural consequence of a sedentary lifestyle when you reach midlife. At the same time your muscle shrinks, fat builds up.

This is the reason why many senior citizens lose mobility and wind up in nursing homes. Loss of muscle equates to loss of strength and sturdy bones. Balance also is lost, and seniors consequently fall and break their hips.

Lack of exercise coupled with aging results in aged-related diseases too. There is an increased risk for cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Did you realize that strength training for only 20 minutes a day, two or threee times a week will build three pounds of muscle and increase your metabolism by 7 percent? It will!

The new muscle will boost your metabolism thereby burning more calories. It will also reduce your blood pressure making it easier for your body to use glucose from blood. (The increase in glucose utilization is 25 percent.)

Bone mass will increase anywhere from 1 to 3 percent, and gastrointestinal efficiency shoots up by 55 percent. Says Westcott, "It's like going from a four-cylinder engine to a six."

Here are some additional perks from exercise:

  • reduces your risk of dying in the next eight years by 40 percent
  • improves brain functioning
  • slashes risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by up to 60 percent
  • blunts symptoms of depression

Westcott cites a study conducted by his organization; it used nineteen men and women from a nursing home located in Orange City, Florida. The average age was 89 and most of them used wheelchairs.

The study participants did ten minutes of strength training a week. After only 14 weeks, almost everyone was out of their wheelchairs. One woman was even able to return to living independently.

Dr. Westcott put his father on a strength training program when he was 82 years old. At six feet tall he weighed only 124 pounds, under tremendous stress from his wife's death.

After a year and a half, Dr. Westcott's father added 24 pounds of lean muscle to his frame. At 97, he's stronger than many people half his age!

I don't know about you, but I am really inspired by Dr. Westcott's father. I have firsthand knowledge of the power of strength or weight training.

At Diamond Gym where I train (Maplewood, New Jersey,) there is a man by the name of Gene who lifts weights. He is in his mid-80s and has been training for about 50 years. There is another member who is in his 90s and still trains. By the way, he is married to a woman in her 40s!

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