Health and Fitness Information for Mature Adults 

February 17, 2009

Table of Contents

  • Exercise and Quality of Life (Clinical study)
  • Physical Activity and Brain Function (Neurobiology)
  • Boomers' Self-Rated Health Status (Survey results)
  • Back Pain on the Increase (Medical news)
  • Vaccines and Older Adults (Advice from the FDA)
  • Exercise a No-No? (Humor)

Exercise and Quality of Life

Researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, recently published a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine involving 430 overweight, sedentary, postmenopausal women. The subjects were divided into four groups, each of which pursued one of the following programs for six months:

  • Remained physically inactive;
  • Exercised, on the average, one hour and fifteen minutes a week;
  • Exercised, on the average, two hours and twenty minutes a week; or
  • Exercised, on the average, three hours a week.
  • The research team, led by Dr. Corby Martin, noted that while much emphasis is placed on extending the length of people's lives, quality of life is also vitally important. They wanted to know how physical activity would impact these women's quality of life. The exercisers took part in both stationary cycling and treadmill walking.

    At the beginning and end of the investigation, subjects completed a questionnaire designed to assess their daily energy levels, stress levels, social life, physical pain, and overall sense of emotional well-being.

    Compared to the inactive group, women in all three of the physical exercise groups reported improvements in quality of life. Perhaps surprisingly, this enhanced quality of life was not strongly tied to weight loss; it occurred even when significant weight loss did not take place. While gains in physical and mental well-being were seen with as little as an hour and 15 minutes of exercise a week, those who exercised the most enjoyed the greatest improvements in quality of life.

    Physical Activity and Brain Function

    In another recent study featuring female subjects, researchers in the Faculties of Medicine and Kinesiology at the University of Calgary evaluated Canadian women older than age 65 and published their findings in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

    The scientists compared sedentary older adult women to their counterparts who regularly performed aerobic activity (including exercise as simple as going for a daily walk outdoors). The active women achieved cognitive function scores 10 percent higher than did the inactive women. Also, the active women had lower blood pressure both at rest and while exercising. They showed better vascular responses in the brain, which suggests that better blood flow to the brain results in improved cognition.

    Boomers' Self-Rated Health Status

    In a large-scale survey funded by the Energizer battery company, 73 percent of boomer-aged respondents rated their own health and that of their spouses as good to excellent, according to a Pulse wire report. The term baby boomer includes persons born between 1946 and 1964, so many of that generation are now turning 62 years old.

    Almost two-thirds of the survey participants said they feel younger than their actual chronological age. Fifty-five percent said they feel that they are in better health than their parents were in at the same age. Comparing themselves to their parents, 45 percent of the surveyed baby boomers said they manage emotional stress better, 65 percent said they exercise more regularly, and approximately 66 percent said they follow a healthier diet.

    Still, about half of Americans ages 55 to 64 have high blood pressure and two out of every five are obese, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Consequently, there is plenty of room for improvement in the population's health prospects.

    Back Pain on the Increase

    A rather astonishing study conducted in North Carolina has found that the rate of chronic low back pain in that state has more than doubled since 1992. This increase may reflect a similar trend in the rest of the country as well.

    University of North Carolina researchers, reporting in the Archives of Internal Medicine, wrote that 3.9 percent of North Carolinians surveyed in 1992 said they had debilitating, ongoing back pain. By the year 2006, that number had climbed to 10.2 percent.

    Why? On a positive note, researchers theorized that perhaps more people afflicted with chronic back pain are seeking medical care. Unfortunately, however, that does not seem to account for the sharp uptick in cases. Another possible contributor to the increase in reported back problems is a widespread rise in obesity. Yet another possible factor may be an increase in depression, which has been connected with back pain although no firm cause and effect relationship has yet been established.

    Due to the major increase in back pain revealed by this study, medical researchers are questioning the effectiveness of current treatment approaches. For example, the study's lead author Dr. Timothy Carey observed that although research has shown that exercise can be a useful means of treating chronic back pain, it is not widely utilized at this time.

    Vaccines and Older Adults

    Many older adults wrongly assume that the vaccinations they were given as children will protect them for a lifetime. With aging, though, people become more vulnerable to certain diseases like tetanus, pneumonia, and the flu that are caused by commonplace infections. If one doesn't know which vaccinations he or she has received, one's physician can help obtain his or her vaccination history. For some diseases, a blood test will detect whether an individual has immunity. Recent issues of Experience! have addressed the importance of obtaining the annual flu vaccine. Below is information from the Food and Drug Administration about eight vaccines that are recommended for older adults:

  • Pneumococcal disease, also called pneumonia, can lead to serious infections of the lungs, the blood, and the covering of the brain. This vaccine is intended for persons over the age of 65.
  • Tetanus, also called lockjaw, is a severe disease with 20 percent of reported cases culminating in death. Adults should receive a tetanus booster every ten years.
  • Diptheria frequently causes heart and nerve problems. Although rare now in the United States, it is still prevalent in other parts of the world and may be encountered during travel.
  • Pertussis, also called whooping cough, causes distressing spasms of coughing. Combination vaccines for tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis are available for older adults up to the age of 64.
  • Herpes zoster, also called shingles, is a painful skin rash with some adverse effects that may be lasting. This vaccine is intended for persons ages 60-plus.
  • Hepatitis B is a serious disease affecting the liver. All unvaccinated adults who may be at risk for infection should received this vaccine.
  • Measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) are diseases that can lead to ear infection, deafness, arthritis, meningitis, pneumonia, and seizures. According to the Centers for Disease Control, anyone born after 1956 should receive at least one dose of the MMR vaccine unless they have had the vaccine or have had each of the three diseases.
  • Influenza, also called the flu, is generally more threatening to senior citizens than to younger adults. Most hospitalizations and deaths from the flu occur in the over-65 age group. Although October or November are the best times to take the flu vaccine, it is still available in December and often even later. Flu season can start as early as October and continue until as late as May.

  • Exercise a No-No?

    Some exercise avoiders just don't seem to know what they're missing! This one's sweet treats would surely wear better on a body conditioned by a little physical activity:

    "Exercise is a dirty word. Every time I hear it, I wash my mouth out with chocolate."

    -- Author Unknown 

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