But the meeting on “DHEA and Aging” held in Washington, D.C. under the direction of the N.Y. Academy of Science changed all this. In discussions with interested physicians, both those in clinical practice and the leading, nationally known educators, I came to realize that aging is another medically treatable disease.
So, I took the first step. I began to educate myself into the process of staying well. This included a change in diet, a re-evaluation of hormonal replacement, and starting an exercise program.
I, like so many men and women, felt that exercise in the last priority in one’s day. For me, after work, helping with the chores at the house, helping with the children’s homework, and my medical and various reading, there was no time to exercise. My group activity was the one hour of tennis for 7 months a year. And by limiting my activity to groups, I added another layer of excuses that kept me from working an exercise program into my busy schedule.
Therefore, for the last two years, I have made an exercise program an integral part of my life. I looked around and did not want to join the statistics at my hospital: almost 50% of the men over 50 in the department of obstetrics and gynecology had had open heart surgery! I make myself and being healthy the top priority. If I am not well, then I cannot perform all the other functions that my family and patients demand from me. And these changes makes all the difference for how I feel -- and you can feel- today.
We know that “as many as 40% of all current illnesses are related to behavior-- that includes both nutrition (diet) and exercise.” These life-style related illnesses are coronary heart disease (heart attacks and strokes), obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and to some extent osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease. To prevent these, states R. Artal, M.D., of the State University of NY Syracuse, you need “ an adequate exercise routine ..include some activity at three times per week.”
Exercising for 30 minutes a day with even a brisk walk will lower death rates by about 15%. So stated Dr. Steven N. Blair of the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research in Dallas. They studied 25341 men and 7080 women before making their claim, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That 30 minutes can be cumulative during the day-- JUST DO IT!
Exercise just does so many good things. Studies show it lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, reduces heart disease, lowers total cholesterol, raises good cholesterol, and reduces the weight gain so typical of “getting older.” And keeping the blood moving through the veins helps prevent blood clots, strokes and some senility.
Exercise can relieve depression, enhances the feelings of “well-being,” can improve sleep patterns and even help arthritic pain. Regular exercise can improve the immune system and ward off colds and infections.
One of the proven benefits of regular exercise is that it lowers blood sugars in diabetics. Physical activity lowers the blood sugar and allows the body to do better with less insulin. What is not realized is that most individuals who are overweight are taxing their pancreatic system to produce enough insulin. Between the increased calorie intake, the high blood sugar, and the storage program for fat as we age and become inactive, all of us over 40 have to make a special effort to keep fit and lean. Diet has been shown to be the most important step for the diabetic. If his or her sugars are high, he or she will suffer major medical illnesses including heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, poor circulation, an increased number of infections, a loss of muscle and increase in fat, and early death from vascular damage, heart attacks and strokes.
Instead of locking yourself into one exercise or program, find a diversity of activity that works both your upper body (strength), legs and heart (aerobic), overall endurance (swimming, bicycling), and flexibility (yoga/ tai chi). For maximum benefit, try to include all of the above aspects. This doesn’t mean to do every exercise every day, rather, alternate your activities, include different trainers or friends, and vary the routines to keep the idea of exercise fresh.
If you have been inactive, get started gradually. Walk a few blocks to the car, the mall, and up the stairs. Make it a point to eat healthy and learn more about what makes your body feel “healthy.” And above all, check with your doctor before beginning any strenuous activity after years of inactivity.
I started walking, then jogging a quarter mile. I found a soft track that relieved the discomfort of running on asphalt. I increased the tennis to twice weekly. I rode my bicycle once weekly. I hired a body builder (trainer) to work my upper body for strength and to help me learn about stretching.
There is no magic formula for how much aerobic exercise you should do. You be the judge, and remember that any exercise is better than none. The general rule is to do aerobic exercise three to four ties a week. Start with just a few minutes, gradually increasing the duration to about 30 minutes.
Set a “target zone” based on your heart rate. The low end of the zone is found by subtracting your age from the number 220, and then multiplying by .7 (or by .60 if you have been very inactive). The high end of the target zone is found by subtracting your age from 220 and multiplying by .85.
Check your heart rate at any time during exercise or right after, either by placing your middle three fingers at your wrist below the base of your thumb to read your pulse, or by feeling the blood vessel at the side of your neck under your jaw. Count how many beats you feel within 15 seconds. Then multiply by 4 to find out how fast your heart is beating in 1 minute. If your heart rate is too high, simply slow down.
Aerobic exercise helps to strengthen the heart and reduce weight. Aerobic exercises (including walking, swimming, bicycling, dancing, gardening, even mowing the lawn) involve continuous, rhythmic movement of the large muscles of the body for at least 10 to 12 minutes at a time.
Endurance execs are intense, extended aerobic exercise that train the heart, lungs, and muscles to work hard for a longer period of time. For example, instead of doing the regular 30 minute workout of walking or jogging, you build endurance by building up this amount over time to perhaps an hour or more.
Many yoga and stretching exercises build flexibility by keeping muscles long and supple. When muscles are flexible, they are less likely to get injured during vigorous exercise or daily activities.
Regular use of the same muscles--in weight-lifting, for example-- eventually increases their size and strength. Many calisthenics-type exercises (sit-ups, push-ups, curls) build strength without causing muscles to become oversized.
An important component of every exercise plan is a short period at the beginning and at the end of vigorous exertion used to prepare your muscles for exercise and to east the transition back to normal activity levels.
Warm-ups should last between 5 and 15 minutes and include flexibility and strengthening exercises. They increase the circulation in muscles, nourish joints and prepare the heart and lungs to work harder.
A short 5- to 10-minute cool-down period following vigorous exercise helps to relax the body and slow the heart rate gradually. An easy method of cooling down ins to continue your aerobic exercise in “slow motion.” Gentle stretching will help to reduce any muscle soreness or stiffness.
A successful plan involves others. Failure happens to all us who push too hard or make excuses for not doing. Whether you use an exercise instructor or a friend, get started. Go slow. Add different exercises. Go to different locations or gyms. Make exercise as important as eating and sleeping. You have only one body and when it fails, you get sick and worse.
I follow the above routine since the DHEA and Aging Meeting in June, 1995. I incorporate a program of diet, education, hormonal replacement, weight training and exercise instruction into my weekly routine. I lost 15 pounds of fat and gained 10 pounds of muscle. I am stronger and faster than I was at 30 years of age. And after just two years of such a program 2-3 times per week, I feel strong enough to work out and win tennis matches with men half my age. I still can’t play them at basketball--but we’ll see what the score is when they get to be over 30. Who knows what the story will be then!
1. Young C. Exercise: Like Breathing and Brushing Your Teeth. The Female Patient 1997;S6:5-10
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