Midlife exercise may reduce the risk of chronic diseases, according to a study

August 14, 2022

According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, middle-aged endurance athletes have much reduced cardiovascular risk than those of the same age who are sedentary. Better blood pressure management and increased arterial flexibility are the main causes of this. The latter benefit ensures that the smooth muscle cells that make up the connective tissue layers of arteries remain healthy and malleable, facilitating optimal blood flow. Atherosclerosis, often known as "hardening of the arteries," is the term used to describe the disease in which these cells start to deteriorate.

About the Study

Researchers examined three groups in the study. 20 athletes between the ages of 45 and 64 with at least ten years of aerobic training, 20 athletes under the age of 45, and 20 middle-aged sedentary persons made up these groups. The better blood pressure regulation and lower arterial stiffness among the active older adults were significant, according to study co-author Takashi Tarumi, PhD, of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan. Those who were in the first two groups regularly engaged in activities like swimming, running, or cycling, usually at a moderate-to-vigorous intensity.

"Middle age is a critical time when people start having vascular risk factors, and that eventually increases the risk of stroke and dementia," Dr. Tarumi says. "So, we think that our findings are important for preventing these age-related chronic diseases."

Never Too Late

Even though the recent study focused on the benefits of athletes with at least ten years of aerobic training under their belts, it is never too late to start working toward a healthier lifestyle, regardless of your age. Previous studies have shown that arterial stiffness can be reversed, which can lower blood pressure and lower cardiovascular risk. According to other study, exercise can lower that risk level by also enhancing heart health-related factors like blood sugar control, cholesterol, triglycerides, and waist circumference.

For instance, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity discovered that increased physical activity levels, even when started later in life, had an impact on these health markers. Understanding what can slow down this process is crucial for healthy aging, according to that study's co-author Hanna-Kaarina Juppi, PhD(c), of the faculty of sport and health sciences at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. Metabolic health naturally declines with age for both men and women.

"It's possible that significant increases in physical activity may be needed as you get older, and especially as women enter menopause," says Dr. Juppi. "But it's also important to highlight the importance of activity in the early prevention of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, which both increase as we age."

Ripple Effect

Consistent exercise in middle age and beyond has been demonstrated to provide a variety of other benefits in addition to those for the cardiovascular system. The Centers for Disease Control contend that physical activity is crucial for healthy aging and preserving independence in later years. These benefits include a decreased risk of depression and anxiety, improved cognitive function, better mobility and balance, and maintenance of muscle mass and bone density. But it's crucial that older folks engage in the correct kinds of physical activity, especially those with chronic illnesses. Therefore, you should:

  • Check with a doctor first.
  • Increase physical activity very gradually.
  • Start with walking rather than vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
  • Do strength training to support bone density and muscle mass.

According to Rocky Snyder, CSCS, author of Return to Center: Strength Training to Realign the Body, Recover from Pain, and Achieve Optimal Performance, regular strength-testing activities can be crucial for maintaining and regaining strength as you age.

“Unfortunately, when the body reduces its activity level, the aging process accelerates,” he says. “Muscle loss, reductions in strength and power, and diminished speed are all products of reduced activity, more so than aging itself."

The trick, according to him, is to view exercise as being crucial to healthy aging. By doing this, you lower your chance of health problems while also maintaining your strength and vitality as the years pass.

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