Regular exercise and a healthy diet can slow or reverse each of these serious signs of aging:
• Gaining excess weight
• Increase in blood pressure and heart disease
• Decreased metabolic rate
• Osteoporosis, or weakening of the bones
• Loss of cartilage, the cushion in the joints
• Osteoarthritis, or wear and tear on the joints
If weight gain ranks as a primary concern, cutting calories and increasing physical activity are the only sure cures for this aspect of aging.
Regular exercise will bring many benefits to your general health besides weight loss, such as:
• Helping the heart pump more slowly while pumping a greater volume of blood; this reduces blood pressure.
• Raising good cholesterol (HDL) and lowering bad cholesterol (LDL); this reduces the risk of heart disease.
• Elevating your metabolism, which enables you to burn more calories every day. With this two-for-one benefit, you burn calories while you exercise, and you burn more even when you are not active.
If your physician has counseled you about the danger of weight gain leading to diabetes, remember that exercise burns glucose (sugar) and thus reduces your blood glucose level. It also makes your body more sensitive to the glucose that you produce.
You can counter osteoporosis with regular resisted exercise, which includes walking and weight lifting. This helps bones continue to grow and maintain strength. To help reduce pain in the joints and keep your joints flexible, exercise helps produce nutrients that slow the thinning and hardening of cartilage. Exercise and stretching can maintain or improve joint mobility, and strengthening exercise builds muscle that helps support joints, thus combating osteoarthritis.
Your fitness routine should include stretching, aerobic exercise and strength training.
Stretching should involve moving every muscle through its full range of motion every day. Be sure to stretch the spine along with all of the muscles. Do this enough to feel the stretch but not pain. Stretch with slow and relaxed motions, avoid bouncing and stretch only to the point of mild tension. Hold the stretch for at least 15 seconds each while breathing slowly and naturally. Then relax the stretch. Stretch a little farther each time. Always do stretching before aerobic exercise.
For aerobic exercise, aim for 30 minutes of walking or cycling a day. Start with five or 10 minutes a day, and, as that becomes easy, add a few minutes. Continue adding a few minutes until you reach 30 minutes a day.
For strength, do resisted exercise every day, using weights for the legs and arms. As with other fitness activities, start out easy, with light weight and build up. Move each joint through its full range of motion and avoid causing pain with any exercise.
If your lifestyle has been sedentary and all of this exercise sounds daunting, you can start increasing your physical activity by:
• Working in the garden or doing chores around home every day.
• Walking instead of driving for errands near your home or work.
• Taking the stairs instead of riding the elevator or escalator.
• When shopping, park at the far end of the lot and walk to the store.
Discuss any exercise regimen with your physician before starting.
I practice geriatric and internal medicine with Northern Nevada Medical Group, and we have physicians and physical therapists experienced in treating aging patients. To make an appointment, call 352-5300.
Denver Miller, MD, specializes in internal medicine and geriatric medicine with the Northern Nevada Medical Group. Dr. Miller earned his medical degree from The Institute of Biomedical Sciences School of Medicine at the University of Juarez, Mexico, and his residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Dr. Miller also completed a fellowship in geriatric medicine at UCLA. Northern Nevada Medical Group.