Stick With It

Monday, May 23rd, 2011 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

The passage of time can be a good thing under the right circumstances. That’s the take-away from recent research conducted by cardiologist Paul Bhella of the JPS Health Network. He found that a lifelong (or long-term) devotion to physical activity can preserve the heart tissue of senior citizens – to a degree, in fact, that is comparable or superior to that of younger, healthy persons who don’t work out, according to a report by Alex Branch of the McClatchy-Tribune.

By now most people know that physical exercise is heart-healthy. But some may fear that they started their fitness programs too late in life to do them any good. Over time, the human heart loses mass and elasticity, which increases the risk of heart failure. But here at SFA, we emphasize that it is never too late to get going and reap worthwhile physiological and psychosocial benefits.

At the annual meeting of the
American College of Cardiology in April, 2011, Dr. Bhella discussed his research team’s findings. They compared the hearts of subjects over age 65 who had exercised different amounts (if at all) during their lives with the hearts of subjects under 35 who, while healthy, were physically inactive. MRI results showed that youthful heart mass was maintained in the older adults who had habitually exercised four or five times per week. Better still, exercising six or seven times per week not only preserved mass, but also promoted new mass – exceeding that of youngsters (ages 25 to 34) who didn’t exercise. Similar outcomes were observed regarding heart elasticity.

For the study’s purposes, “exercise” was defined as aerobic activity, such as walking or cycling, generally performed for more than 20 minutes per session. Importantly, a “lifelong” commitment to exercise did not necessarily mean uninterrupted physical activity since childhood – or even since high school. Most of the senior citizens with notably desirable heart mass and elasticity levels had been physically active for about 20 to 25 years. That suggests that middle-aged and older persons can gain greatly by embarking on a regular program of physical exercise.

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