Exercise Programs for Older Adults. Part 2

Thursday, September 27, 2012 11:54
Posted in category Fitness

A study by Dr. Ralph Paffenbarger Jr. involved 17,000 Harvard alumni who entered college between 1916 and 1950.(11) The men who were the most active were shown to have less than half the risk of dying as the men who were the least active. Even the men who had other known health risks, such as high blood pressure or smoking, had a significantly lower chance of death if they exercised regularly. Young blood vessels were equally healthy whether subjects were athletic or sedentary. However, among older subjects, exercise clearly protected blood vessel health. Researchers believe that regular exercise prevents endothelial dysfunction by protecting against oxidative stress caused by free radicals.(2)

For both of these studies, the results were simply a matter of physiology: An exercising adult strengthens his or her heart muscles, developing a more functional pump. This results in the formation of new capillaries and mitochondria in the muscles being used, and increases the amount of blood in the body. Also, in healthy blood vessels, the endothelium, or lining, produces nitric oxide. Nitric oxide allows blood vessels to dilate to accommodate varying blood flow volume, and protects the blood vessels against atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and blood clots, both of which can block blood flow and cause a heart attack.

Muscle mass. Aging is associated with decreased muscle mass and strength, which is linked to an increased risk of falling. The decrease in the size of muscle fibers can be slowed, however, with regular resistive exercise. Resistance training has been found to increase strength and muscle mass in elderly sarcopenic (lacking fleshy tissue or muscle) individuals.(22)

An exercise program at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for the Aged in Boston involved six women and four men who performed strength training at 80 percent of their one repetition maximum.(21) The 10 participants were between the ages 90 and 96. They had an average of 4.5 chronic diseases per person, and 4.5 daily medications. Seven had osteoarthritis, six had coronary artery disease, six had suffered stress fractures from osteoporosis, four had high blood pressure, and seven regularly used a cane or other walking device. The individuals took an average of 2.2 seconds to stand up from sitting in a straight chair, and eight of the 10 had a history of falls that were related to muscular weakness.

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