Sustained physical activity with vigorous intensity can add years to your life and significantly improve the quality in the latter stages of aging, according to the latest results of a long term study into more than 12,000 elderly Western Australian men.
In the study, published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the University of Western Australia researchers found that 150 minutes of vigorous exercise per week added 2-3 years to the lives of the men who remained physically active through the duration of the 13 year study. Vigorous exercise was defined as any physical activity that caused them to huff and puff. Physical activity, survival, and functional status were assessed at the initial recruitment, a follow up period, and at the study exit.
The physically active men demonstrated less depression, more functional independence (e.g. drive, pay their own bills), and less memory loss as opposed to their sedentary counterparts. The study concluded that when safe and feasible, vigorous physical activity promoted healthy aging and longevity. Exercise prevents many of the health problems that come with age.
Vigorous Exercise and Seniors
What counts as vigorous exercise? Everyone’s fitness level varies. Speed walking for one person may be easy, but it is difficult for another. Center for Disease Control (i.e. CDC) uses the RPE (Ratings of Perceived Exertion) scale to assess intensity. On a scale of 0-10, where sitting is 0, and hard work you cannot sustain longer than 1 minute is a 10, you should aim for an RPE rating between 5-8. This means that when you are engaging in a physical activity, your heart rate increases, your breathing increases, and talking is more difficult.
For seniors, the CDC recommends taking it small intervals at a time. Try to sustain the vigorous exercises for 10 minutes and spread the activity throughout the week until you reach 150 minutes. Even more health benefits and weight loss are seen when the individual can increase to 300 minutes a week.
Find an exercise that works for you. This will depend on your physical health, your ailments, and what you feel comfortable doing. Just be sure that the activity reaches a vigorous intensity level (RPE between 5-8) and can be sustained for at least 10 minutes. Remember, some exercise is better than no exercise and it is never too late to start.
Never too Late to Start Exercising
When should you start? One of the key points from the study is that it’s never too late to start an exercise regime. Professor Almeida, Winthrop chair of Geriatric Psychiatry at UWA’s school of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, stressed the importance of maintaining your exercise regime but if you aren’t active, it is never too late to start exercising regularly. Those that were not physically active at the beginning of the study, but took it up after the initial assessment, also gained the health benefits of exercise.
Another study from the University of Texas also support the evidence that it’s never too late to reap the health benefits of exercise. In that trial, which involved 9,000 middle aged men and women, those that improved their fitness levels, after 18 years had less Medicare claims for heart failure treatments than those who didn’t improve over that period. Exercise is the prescription to health.
When starting an exercise program be sure to get clearance from your doctor. Once cleared, find an activity you enjoy. Then, make it a part of your regular routine. Remember, increases in duration and intensity of any physical activity should be gradual to prevent injury.
Don't Stop Exercising
I’m healthy and fit but now I am retired. Is it time to relax now? The answer is no. You have to keep moving. In the trial, the group that started out exercising, but gave exercise up through the 13 year study lost all the health benefits of exercise. They developed more functional impairments and disabilities as opposed to the active group. The bottom line, according to Professor Almeida, is that it is better to start exercising than to exercise and then stop.
Exercise not only adds years to your life, it brings you quality of life.