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Growing old gracefully - and healthfully.

In the January issue, we referred to Drs. Evans and Rosenberg and their work on the value of strength training for the elderly. In their book, Biomarkers: The 10 Determinants of Aging You Can Control, they give valuable advice on other aspects of the aging process:

Heart function: At age 20, we can get our heart rates up to 200 during exercise; at 60, the best we can do is about 160. By keeping our hearts healthy with a low-fat diet and exercise, the old pumps will compensate for the slower rate by putting out more blood at each beat. Thus, we'll have sufficient blood (and therefore oxygen) to meet our exercise needs.

Aerobic capacity: The 65-year-old is able to process oxygen about 30-40 percent as effectively as a 30-year-old, which is why we older people get out of breath more easily. With exercise, however, we can reduce that decline in aerobic capacity--we just have to work harder for it!

Overall physical performance: At age 60, we can't compete with a 20-year-old, but if we're fit at age 80, we'll probably outperform a couch potato of 40.

Bone density: Bones naturally thin with age, leading to osteoporosis and fractures. Exercise not only diminishes calcium loss from bone, but improves the body's ability to absorb dietary calcium.

Metabolism: The rate at which we burn calories at rest (basic metabolic rate) falls with age--almost entirely due to loss of muscle mass. Unless we decrease our caloric intake, therefore, we will put on weight with age. Strength training increases metabolism and thus keeps weight down.

Blood sugar: As the body's ability to utilize sugar decreases with age, the risk of diabetes increases. Exercise and a low-fat, high-fiber diet enhance the body's utilization of sugar.

Immunity: Aging affects both the number and quality of the immune system T cells that mobilize the body's defenses against infection. Getting plenty of vitamins C and E and beta carotene in a well-rounded diet will keep the immune system strong.

Blood pressure: Weight control, exercise, and not smoking are the best defenses against the blood pressure rise that often accompanies aging.

Nutrient levels: The body's ability to absorb calcium, certain vitamins, and other nutrients declines with age. If a well-balanced diet is not enough to meet all the needs, supplements can make up the difference.

Susceptibility to chronic diseases: Obesity, inactivity, and smoking contribute to susceptibility to chronic diseases that increases with aging. A low-fat diet, exercise, moderation in drinking and not smoking will reduce the risk of these diseases.

How fortunate that the things most likely to reduce the pleasures of life as we age are also the things over which we have so much personal control as we age!
COPYRIGHT 1992 Benjamin Franklin Literary & Medical Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Medical Update
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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