Fit, Not Frail: Exercise as a Tonic for Aging

A friend, Dianna Gordon of No Nonsense Self Defense, culled this article from the New York Times.

I don’t know how long the link will be active but hey, so far so good.

New York Times

Personal Health

Fit, Not Frail: Exercise as a Tonic for Aging
by Jane E. Brody, published: June 24, 2008

Fact: Every hour of every day, 330 Americans turn

Fact: By 2030, one in five Americans will be older
than 65.

Fact: The number of people over 100 doubles every

Fact: As they age, people lose muscle mass and
strength, flexibility and bone.

Fact: The resulting frailty leads to a loss of
mobility and independence.

The last two facts may sound discouraging. But they can be countered by another.

Regular participation in aerobics, strength training and balance and flexibility exercises can delay and may even prevent a life-limiting loss of physical abilities into one’s 90s and beyond.

This last fact has given rise to a new group of
professionals who specialize in what they call
active aging, an updated series of physical
activity recommendations for older adults from the
American Heart Association and the American
College of Sports Medicine.

These recommendations are expected to match new federal activity guidelines due in October from the United States Health and Human Services Department.

But you need not - indeed should not - wait for the government. Even if you have a chronic health problem or physical limitation, there are safe ways to improve fitness and well-being.

Any delay can increase the risk of injury and make it harder to recoup your losses.

Miriam E. Nelson, director of the John Hancock
Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at
Tufts University in Boston and lead author of the
new recommendations, observed last fall in The
Journal on Active Aging
that "with every
increasing decade of age, people become less and
less active."

"But," Dr. Nelson said, "the evidence shows that with every increasing decade, exercise becomes more important in terms of quality of life,
independence and having a full life. So as of now, Americans are not on the right path."

Jim Concotelli of the Horizon Bay Senior
Communities in Tampa, who oversees fitness and
wellness program development for communities for
the elderly in several states, noted this year in
The Journal on Active Aging that many older
Americans were unfamiliar with exercise activities
and feared that they would cause injury and pain,
especially if they have arthritis or other chronic
problems. Yet by strengthening muscles, he said,
they can improve joints and bones and function
with less pain and less risk of injury.

The key is start slowly and build gradually as
ability and strength improve. Most important is
simply to start - now- perhaps under the guidance
of a fitness professional or by creating a program
based on the guidelines outlined here.

Although medical clearance may not be necessary
for everyone for the moderate level of activity
suggested, those with a known or possible problem
would be wise to consult a doctor. And a few
sessions with a trainer can help assure that the
exercises are being done correctly and not likely
to cause injury.

Until recently, physical activity recommendations
for all ages have emphasized aerobics, or
cardiovascular conditioning, through moderate to
vigorous activities like brisk walking, cycling,
lap swimming or jogging for half an hour a day
five or more days a week. For those unable to do
30 minutes at a time, the activities can be broken
up into three 10-minute intervals a day. If you
have long been sedentary, start with even shorter

For people who prefer indoor workouts, a
treadmill, cross-trainer, step machine or exercise
bike can provide excellent aerobic training for
the heart, lungs and circulation. Those unable to
do weight-bearing exercise might try swimming or
water aerobics. Keep in mind that 30 minutes a day
of aerobic activity five days a week is the
minimum recommendation. More is better and can
reduce the risk of chronic disease related to

Contrary to what many active adults seem to
believe, physical fitness does not end with
aerobics. Strength training has long been
advocated by the National Institute on Aging
, and
the heart association has finally recognized the
added value of muscle strength to reduce stress on
joints, bones and soft tissues; enhance stability
and reduce the risk of falls; and increase the
ability to meet the demands of daily life, like
rising from a chair, climbing stairs and opening

Strength training can be done in a gym on a series
of machines, each working a different set of major
muscle groups: hips, legs, chest, back, shoulders,
arms and abdomen. Or it can be done at home with
resistance bands or tubes, hand-held barbells or
dumbbells or even body weight. One program, the
Key 3 program diagrammed here, was devised by
Michael J. Hewitt, research director for exercise
science at the Canyon Ranch Health Resort in
Tucson. It can be completed in 10 minutes with

As Dr. Hewitt explained in the International
Longevity Center-USA newsletter, skeletal muscles
can only contract and thus are always arranged in
pairs. "One muscle of the pair pulls to bend the
joint (flexion), and its antagonist pulls to
straighten the joint (extension)."
Thus, a
strengthening program must be balanced, he said,
"pairing every pulling lift with an opposite
pushing action."

Dr. Hewitt emphasized that to reduce the risk of
injury and premature muscle fatigue, the large
muscles should be exercised first, followed by the
smaller muscles, with the postural muscles
exercised last. For example, one would start with
chest and upper back muscles, then the arms and
shoulders and finally the lower back and abdomen.

Muscles have to be overworked to grow stronger.
The goal for each exercise is three sets of 8 to
12 repetitions to muscle fatigue. Muscles also
need time to recover. So strength training should
be done two or three times a week on
nonconsecutive days.

The new recommendations add flexibility and
balance to the mix.

Improving balance and reducing the risk of falls is critical as you age - if you fall, break your hip and die of pneumonia, aerobic capacity will not save you. Ten minutes a day stretching legs, arms, shoulders, hips and trunk
can help assure continued mobility, and daily
exercises like standing on one foot and then the
other, walking heel to toe or practicing tai chi
can improve balance.

The recommendations, issued last August, are
geared to healthy adults 18 to 64, with a
companion set for those 65 and older or those 50
to 64 who have chronic health problems or physical
limitations. Details can be found at
Under "Influence;" click on Physical Activity
Guidelines From ACSM and AHA.

The experts who made these recommendations urge
all adults to adopt them now. As C. Jessie Jones,
co-director of the Center for Successful Aging at
California State University, Fullerton, said,
"People can’t wait until they’re in residential or
long-term care to get started."