Physical Activity: For Better or For Worse?

I doubt this will come as a surprise to anyone, but guess what? Getting fit at any age has positive benefits. Is that a surprise? Our bodies are remarkable resilient. Even if you’ve been a couch potato your whole life, if you get up off your you know what, and you do it now, and you start moving regularly, it will benefit you. There’s a boatload of science that proves this.

So what are the pros and cons of incorporating some exercise into your daily schedule?

With Fitness

Control your weight
Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
Reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
Reduce your risk of some cancers
Strengthen your bones and muscles
Improve your mental health and mood
Improve your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls, if you’re an older adult
Increase your chances of living longer

Without Fitness

Increased high blood pressure
Increased high blood glucose levels
Increased risk of being overweight or even obese
Loss of muscle mass
Decline in balance ability
Reduced muscle strength
Reduced physical endurance
Reduced bone density
Decline in cognitive performance
Reduced functional independence

Given the options, it’s absolutely clear that being fit is the obvious choice. If that’s not enough for you, a study published in 2012 from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Cooper Institute in Dallas concluded that being physically fit during your 30s, 40s, and 50s not only helps extend lifespan, but it also increases the chances of aging healthily, free from chronic illness.

“We’ve determined that being fit is not just delaying the inevitable, but it is actually lowering the onset of chronic disease in the final years of life,” said Dr. Jarett Berry, assistant professor of internal medicine and senior author of the study, which is available online in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study focused on the medical records of over 18,000 patients, and spanned 40 years. The study showed that when patients increased fitness levels by just 20 percent in their midlife years, they decreased their chances of developing chronic diseases – congestive heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease, and colon cancer – decades later by 20 percent.

“What sets this study apart is that it focuses on the relationship between midlife fitness and quality of life in later years. Fitter individuals aged well with fewer chronic illnesses to impact their quality of life,” said Dr. Benjamin Willis of The Cooper Institute, one of the study authors.

OK, so how much exercise does it take to experience the positive benefits? Remarkably little. Just 20 or 30 minutes of walking on most days of the week can make a significant difference. “You don’t have to become an athlete,” says Dr. Willis, who himself has little time for exercise but tries to fit in a daily walk. “Just getting up off the couch is key.”

What’s the key takeaway? It really doesn’t take much to bring significant improvement. Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that aging is a complicated process and extremely individualized. As my father is fond of saying, when asked about his secret to his 92 years, “It’s exercise and luck, diet and luck, and a whole lot of luck.” The trick is to make your own luck.

Now go for a walk. 🙂

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