It’s no secret that we all have a fear of aging. Whether it’s because we have seen the effects of aging on others or because we feel it will limit us from doing what we love. There is no doubt that once you reach a certain age, the daunting aspect of celebrating another birthday is more unwelcomed with each passing year. Besides the obvious effects of aging, getting an extra wrinkle or grey hair, why are we so fearful? I’m going to give you guys some hope today that the way we treat our health and bodies can reverse the effects of aging.
There is no special pill or oil that will reverse your bone, joint, muscle, or balance health quite like the effects of long term regular physical activity. Sandwiched between my previous outpatient Orthopaedic career and beginning my own company, I worked for an outpatient rehabilitation company that only saw geriatric patients. My patients ranged in age from 65 to 100 and I will tell you my 100 year old patient could run circles around my 65 year old patient. One was seeking me because they just wanted to be able to transfer to their wheelchair, the other because they had experienced their first fall at 100 and needed training in use of a rollator walker (it was their first assistive device to date). Can you guess which one was the older patient in this scenario? My 100 year old patient was the one that had just began to use an assistive device.
This was nothing new to me however, I noticed a trend in my patients that were extremely healthy vs. the ones who were not. There is a lot of research needed in regards to medications on our long term health, but I will tell you that many of my patients that were suffering more than others, seemed to be on every medication you can imagine. In addition, when gathering their past medical histories, they had suffered from numerous heart, kidney, lung/breathing issues and their health was continuing to deteriorate. Once again, these patients were sometimes in their early 70s while some of my 90 year old patients were having very minor orthopaedic issues.
So what happened to lead them down this road? For many, it was a complete lack of any extra physical activity besides going to and from specific destinations such as the grocery store or their hair dresser. The ones that seemed to be doing great, exercised daily with purposeful walking, gardening, bowling and golfing. They told me they also enjoyed getting out and volunteering. They maintained their active lifestyles after retiring, while others seemed to look at retirement as a time they just wanted to rest…forever! Unfortunately, that long rest period has caused their bodies to deteriorate. Here are some recent research studies confirming that long term exercise over your lifespan can reverse the effects of aging:
According to a study conducted by the University of Birmingham, cyclists from age 55-79 were followed over a long-term period and when they tested them they found that their muscle mass and strength were preserved, as well as their thymus glands’ ability to secrete T-cells (immune) cells which remained unchanged from those of younger populations. Case in point, exercise can help prevent you from getting sick. More importantly, this study shows that aging does not cause us to become more frail. Moreover, a sedentary lifestyle causes us to become frail.
Another study completed by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center showed that cardiovascular exercise actually helped to maintain brain health, particularly the white matter portions of the brain which help coat neurons and sends important messages for our bodies to carry out executive functions.
After completing my last day at my previous job, my mindset has completely shifted from “do I have time to exercise,” to “I have no choice but to exercise.” I want the best for my children, and the mom guilt of exercising when I should be spending time with them sometimes gets to me. Then, I remember the children taking care of their aging parents and the stress that has taken a toll on their lives, and I now say, “I am exercising for my children.” I want to live a life of quality, not quantity, and I want to remain as independent for as long as I can without burdening my children. Folks, exercise is just as important for your children, as it is for you!
So for those out there with their New Years Resolutions to become more healthy and exercise, make it a lifelong resolution for you and your children.