Food & Fitness After 50: Physical Activity is a Polypill – Say What?

Poly means many and polypharmacy refers to taking many drugs, prescription as well as over the counter, that can bring unwanted problems for older adults. Some people have shoe boxes full of prescription medicines, vitamin supplements, pain relievers, and other dietary supplements claiming to cure all ills. But, what if there was a polypill; one pill that could help us all improve our healthspan? In today’s post, Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, lets us in on the secret of a polypill.

This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray

There is little doubt that regular physical activity lengthens our healthspan—the number of years when we are in good health.  Lots of research has made it clear that no medication is more effective than physical activity in helping us stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.  For that reason, exercise has been referred to as a pollypill —a medication with multiple benefits.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that all the physical activity we encounter during the course of a normal day has a role in preventing heart disease.  The researchers looked at the daily physical activity habits of 5,861 older women (average age was 78) over a 5-year period and found that even light activity reduced the chances of death from heart disease.

Only about 25% of adults in the U.S. achieve the current recommendations for physical activity of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity) each week.  For anyone who is intimidated by the prospect of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, the notion that all movement counts may well promote more light physical activity during the day.  Let’s hope that’s the case.

Walking, dusting, vacuuming, climbing stairs at home, gardening and lawn work, playing with children and pets, and similar low-intensity activities are part of everyday life for most Americans.  In the JAMA study, the older women engaged in a total of 3 to over 6 hours of light physical activity each day.  Not surprisingly, more physical activity was associated with lower risk of heart disease, a finding that is likely also true for older men, although that likelihood awaits confirmation.

exerciseAny time we get our heart, lungs, and muscles out of their comfort zones—even for a little bit—our bodies benefit.  A quick look at the list of health benefits of physical activity should be enough to convince even the most sedentary person to move more.

  • Lower deaths from all causes
  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • Lower risk of hypertension
  • Lower risk of stroke
  • Lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes
  • Lower risk of breast, colon, and prostate cancers
  • Lower risk of serious falls
  • Lower risk of complications after surgery
  • Lower risk of metabolic syndrome (includes obesity)
  • Lower risk of depression (and reduces the severity of depression)
  • Better memory and cognitive function
  • Better bone health
  • Improved quality of life
  • Greater life expectancy

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if even light physical activity conferred all those same benefits, even if to a lesser extent than more vigorous physical activity?  There is a strong possibility that is the case, although much more research is needed to confirm that educated guess.  What is known is that moving more during the day is a goal we all should embrace.

In general, Americans sit too often for too long.  Research has shown that prolonged sitting increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 Diabetes, and cancer.  Even if we exercise during the day, sitting for hours on end increases our risk of those disorders.  Happily, interrupting prolonged sitting with periodic 5-minute physical activity “snacks” counters the negative aspects of sitting.  Climbing a few flights of stairs, taking a brisk walk, or doing simple calisthenics can be easily accomplished during a 5-minute break.

Physical activity is indeed a polypill that can help us lead longer, happier, healthier lives and the fact that all movement counts helps make it easier for all of us to keep moving toward a longer healthspan.

Dr. Bob Murray is an exercise physiologist and managing principal of a sports science consulting company. His passion for exercise and health began as a physical education teacher and coach, and continues today in his late 60s as an avid swimmer, cyclist, and fitness fan.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

Food & Fitness After 50: Is 70 the New 40?

“The strong live long!”

ChicagoI recently returned from Chicago from the annual American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Summit. My friend and co-author of Food & Fitness After 50 , Dr. Bob Murray, and I gave a talk titled “Is 70 the New 40?” Since Bob and I are closer to 70 than 65, we say YES to that question!

For those of you who have not yet reached 70, what does it take to feel like you are still 40? And, for those you who have reached your 70th birthday, what does it take to stay on the path to optimal aging?

Here are some key takeaways from our talk as well as some other experts who spoke at the conference, emphasizing what we’ve been saying along….eat well, move well, and be well!

 

#1.  Lift weights. Whether you call it strength or resistance training, maintaining muscle mass is critical to healthy aging. Our muscle mass peaks around age 25 and holds steady until about 40, but then declines about 1% per year until age 65. The loss of strength is even greater…. about 2 to 4% per year. The good news is that we can easily preserve our muscle mass and strength with a couple of bouts of resistance weight training each week.

We all know the exercise guidelines call for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and “also” strength train two days a week. The word “also” was troubling to key note speaker Dr. Eric Rawson. Adding strength training is almost an afterthought; it would be “nice” to do it, but it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves in preserving health. “There are under-recognized benefits to strength training,” says Dr. Rawson. Strength underpins skill and if you increase strength it helps with overall physical activity.  Think about the ability to climb stairs as an example. It takes leg strength to climb stairs which may be why so many people use escalators or elevators instead of stairs. Dr. Rawson says it’s not that aerobic or endurance exercise isn’t good, it’s just that both aerobic and strength are needed for optimal aging. “If exercise is medicine, then resistance exercise is a gateway drug,” claims Dr. Rawson.Take-the-Stairs-Instead

#2. Weight training has more benefits than building or maintaining muscle. Dr. Stu Phillips elaborated on the health benefits of strength training in his presentation.  He reviewed the most recent evidence showing that resistance training “has health-related benefits that are not dissimilar to those imbued by aerobic exercise.” Strength training reduces the risk for falls and is an effective treatment for type 2 diabetes, some cancers, anxiety and depression. Dr. Bob Murray lists many benefits from strength training in our chapter on getting and maintaining muscle and strength:

  • Stabilizing arthritic joints
  • Improving balance
  • Increasing resting metabolism
  • Increasing social interaction
  • Lowering risk of all-cause mortality
  • Lowering risk of osteoporosis
  • Lowering risk of lower back pain
  • Lowering risk of obesity
  • Accelerated recovery from illness or injury
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved self confidence
  • Enhanced self-esteem

As Dr. Bob likes to say, “The strong live long!”

#3.  Maintain your body weight and if you want to lose weight, stay away from quick weight loss schemes.

I’m a big believer in monitoring your body weight so “weight creep” doesn’t happen. No one gains 30 pounds overnight, but they do gain 1 or 2 pounds a year without realizing it and as the years go by, the pounds add up. When you find yourself wanting to lose weight, the quick weight loss plan du jour seems tempting. But, as we age, weight loss should not be the goal. Instead, “body composition management is more important than weight management to enhance successful aging,” says Dr. Ellen Evans, in her special lecture, “Helping Baby Boomers Stay Functional.”

What Dr. Evans means by managing body composition is that older adults who want to lose weight really want to lose body fat while preserving lean muscle and bone. According to Dr. Evans, “regular physical activity, especially resistance training exercise, in addition to caloric restriction attenuates the loss of muscle and bone mass loss and increasing dietary protein intake enhances this effect.” The idea that we lose lean muscle during weight loss wasn’t new to me, but I never thought about the negative impact of weight loss on bone health. There is no cure for osteoporosis, so we need to do everything we can to preserve bone mass and bone strength as we age.

So, is 70 the new 40? It can be if you manage your body composition, strength train twice a week, and also keep up your aerobic exercise.

Learn more about eating well, moving well, and being well in Food & Fitness After 50, available at Amazon and other book sellers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.