Most of us have received the message by now: Sitting is toxic. Being sedentary is now directly linked to a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other serious disorders, such as type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome. Sitting too much, and moving too little, may actually rob you of years of potential lifespan. “Move it or lose it” sums up this new paradigm of healthful aging. Of course, it’s not just about living longer as we age. Humans need to be active at any age in order to enjoy optimal health. It’s just that simple.
Get Up and Move
Being active can take virtually any form, as long as you’re getting up occasionally and moving. But there’s more to optimal health than just walking throughout the workday. For healthy aging, it’s also important to focus on building and/or maintaining muscle. But why is muscle strength important? Research shows that older people who maintain muscle mass through regular strength training exercise are far more likely to remain mobile, and that means their quality of life is likely to remain better, longer. These days, aging experts are fond of talking in terms of not only lifespan, but “healthspan”.
This newly coined word reflects the reality that it’s simply not enough to live longer, if those extra years are marred by poor quality of life. In order to enjoy life, you must be capable of mobility. Healthspan as a concept acknowledges that living, and clinging to life, are not necessarily the same thing.
In aging medicine, doctors know that loss of muscle mass inevitably correlates with “frailty, poor quality of life, and mortality.” Although scientists are constantly exploring drugs to help remedy this situation, to date the single best method for preventing this decline is good, old-fashioned exercise. As noted in a recent issue of the journal Oncotarget, “…therapies such as physical exercise and nutritional support are considered the basis for prevention and treatment of age-associated muscle abnormalities.”
Do Not Succumb to Sarcopenia
Scientists refer to aging-related loss of muscle mass and strength as sarcopenia. It’s recognized as a “major cause of disability and frailty in the elderly.” The prevention and/or cure? High-intensity, progressive resistance exercise. In other words, strength training. To be clear, there are two distinct forms of exercise. The first is aerobic (also known as endurance), and includes everything from walking, running, swimming, playing tennis, or gardening, to dancing and in-line skating. Anything that raises your heart rate and makes you breathe a little faster falls within this category. The second is resistance training (also known as strength training). Think of push-ups, working with weights, doing “plank” in yoga, etc.
Both forms of exercise are known to be important for maintaining health and fitness. But strength training often gets overlooked by conscientious people who are otherwise making a good-faith effort to stay fit. Ignoring strength training would be a mistake. Invariably, research shows that health and fitness payoffs are greater when these two forms of exercise are combined. That’s not to say you have to do both the same day, just that it’s important to fit both into your weekly routine.
Sadly, research also shows that a majority of Americans presently do not meet minimal combined exercise goals. In fact, according to a study published recently in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, only 51% of adults meet recommendations for endurance exercise, and only about 23% meet guidelines for both aerobic exercise and strength training. But you can do better.