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Exercise: Key to Better Health Despite Age

Six Washington-area men kept right up with a pack of world-class runners at the recent Plaza America 5k race; the six men were all aged 75 or older.

The men weren’t “life-long” athletes or obsessed by exercise; they discovered running in middle age, along with increased energy and well-being.

“It’s never to late to start exercising,” said Jerome Fleg, researcher at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

“There is no age we have found where you can no longer reap the benefit of physical activity.”

Studies conducted in nursing homes (in persons of 80 years or older) and in trials of over-weight, middle-age adults, exercise is proving to be powerful therapy to reduce blood pressure, boost cardiovascular health, strengthen muscles, improve metabolism, elevate mood and maintain mental function.

The Annals of Internal Medicinereported that regular aerobic exercise — even when it doesn’t cause weight-loss — reduced blood pressure, regardless of age, weight or systolic blood pressure readings.

New research suggests most of the physical changes associated with aging, such as insulin resistance, decreased lung function and increased blood pressure, are actually a result of inactivity — not a direct result of aging.

In a study of 6,000 men, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, poor physical fitness was found to be a better predictor of death than smoking, hypertension and heart disease.

“There is no drug in current or prospective use that holds as much promise for a life of extended vitality as physical exercise,” said Walter Michael Bortz II, professor of medicine at Stanford University in California. “It’s not that you’re too old to exercise — it’s that you’re too old notto exercise.”

SOURCE: Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com, April 23, 2002.