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: Meet the Zippendales

February is the month where we turn attention to affairs of the heart. Of course, there is Valentine’s Day on the 14th, but it is also American Heart Month, designed to raise awareness about heart disease and how you can prevent it.

Today s post,  is written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, and he shares his personal story of open-heart surgery and coming back strong.

zippendales
Bob, Ed, and John all have the telltale scars from open-heart surgery,

Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, accounting for over 600,000 deaths each year.  Heart disease is an umbrella term for a number of heart ailments that include coronary artery disease (the most common heart disease), problems with heart rhythm (arrhythmias due to electrical problems), congenital heart defects (heart problems that we’re born with), aortic aneurysm (enlarged, weakened aorta which is the main artery in the body), heart failure (due to fluid accumulation in other parts of the body), and cardiomyopathy (enlarged, stiff heart muscle).

coronary-heart-disease  When heart disease is identified, there are many interventions, some of them surgical, that can address the problem, saving countless lives each year.  For example, coronary artery disease is caused by the buildup of plaque (cholesterol and other substances) in the coronary arteries that feed the heart cells.  Too much plaque narrows the arteries (atherosclerosis) and restricts blood flow, causing angina and eventually a heart attack, often with permanent damage and weakening of the heart in those who survive. Healthy diet and lifestyle habits (no smoking), regular exercise, and medications are the go-to steps for treating coronary artery disease.  When the arteries are too clogged, bypass surgery or the placement of stents to widen the arteries are common surgical procedures.

Open-heart surgery is a common procedure and not just for coronary artery disease.  For example, Bob had an electrical problem (persistent atrial fibrillation), Ed had a plumbing problem (coronary artery disease), and John had a mechanical problem (congenital valve defect).  All three needed open-heart surgery to fix their problems.

There are many ways our hearts can malfunction, and when open-heart surgery is needed, this life-saving procedure takes a short-term toll on mental, physical, and emotional health, not to mention a reduction in physical activity that can quickly erode fitness.  Many people who have had open-heart surgery say that it takes at least six months to feel normal again.  Six months can feel like an eternity for active people who are anxious to return to their normal activities as soon as possible.  That desire can help people adhere to healthy diet and activity guidelines following open-heart surgery, but as Bob, Ed, and John can each attest, doing too much too soon can prolong the recovery process.

Our bodies are capable of overcoming the trauma of horrific accidents and major surgeries—if given enough time and the right approach to recovery.  Damaged tissues and a traumatized nervous system require time to heal, a gradual process that can be spurred along with good nutrition, ample rest, and the right amount of physical activity: not too much, not too little.  Pushing too hard, too soon stresses cells that are still healing, slowing the repair process and possibly causing even more damage.  The same is true with the nervous system.  The soreness and exhaustion we feel after surgeries and illnesses are important signals for the need to rest and allow healing to occur unimpeded.

Whether it’s major surgery, a sprained ankle, the flu, or chemotherapy, periodic setbacks to health are a fact of life.  As we age, such setbacks become more challenging, especially for those with existing health problems.  Bob, Ed, and John returned to their active lifestyles, although each complained that their recovery took longer than they had hoped.  And each admitted that trying to do too much, too soon likely made their recovery more difficult.  Bob relied on a combination of swimming, bicycling, and strength training to return to a new normal, a stop-and-start-again process that took at least two years.  Ed was the quickest to get back to normal function; Ed gradually increased his walking, chores, and weight lifting over six months and that approach did the trick.  John bicycled and strength trained, gradually increasing the duration and intensity of his efforts, paying the price of daily exhaustion whenever he overdid it.  A year or so post-surgery, John was able to exercise normally, and his aches and pains disappeared.

Recovering from a major illness or surgery not only takes time, it also takes patience.  We can help our bodies recover through proper diet, light activity, and especially rest, but we must remain patient enough to allow our bodies to recover at their own pace.

For more information on optimal nutrition and exercise check out our new Food & Fitness After 50 web page.

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