Exercise and aging


Every day, not only are we getting older but are also deteriorating in health and fitness. And not only individually, but as a nation.

Over the past twenty years the number of people aged over 65 has more than doubled and unless more attention is paid to health-related fitness, the strain on medical services may soon become intolerable.

Growing into a man
Before the age of 25, even without training, improvements in the endurance and strength aspects of fitness occur naturally. The rate of these improvements can be enhanced further with training, of course.

In a sporting context, performance tends to dwindle after the age of about 35-40, regardless of the fitness requirements. This is shown to be true by looking at the best marathon times for a variety of age groups. This can be applied to all sports, leaving out the occasional exception.

Why does this happen?
The decline in fitness as one gets older can be attributed to the natural aging process, or just as easily a reduction in physical activity. A combination of the two is most likely. But because the lifestyle of the older population tends to lack the regular physical activity needed to maintain health and fitness, ageing alone cannot be held entirely responsible.

Use it or lose it
A philosophy common with all components of exercise, 'use it or lose it,' is particularly appropriate for the ageing population. Physiologists have examined people of different ages in order to establish the mechanisms behind this inevitable drop in physical performance.

The values of V02max, one index of aerobic ability, usually decrease by a staggering 70 per cent at the age of 65 from what they were at the age of 20. This rate of decline appears to be a fairly consistent, regardless of whether you are trained or not.

A vicious cycle - and how to reverse it
The ageing process may not be as crucial for those involved in some sort of regular physical activity, but is a much more serious concern for the less fit majority.

Some individuals, after the age of 40, will struggle to walk up a 1-in-7 slope without discomfort and heavy breathing, which will likely discourage future physical activity, leading to a greater decrease in aerobic fitness and muscle function. A vicious cycle of decline can develope in this way.

Look on the bright side...
Despite all of this, you are still trainable regardless of how old or unfit you are. This has been clearly demonstrated by a number of past experiments.

Research projects uncover some answers
Two projects in Ontario, Canada, have examined ageing populations. In the first (Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 19 (4), 366-378,1993), four males of just under 60 were given a daily training programme for 12 weeks.

Comparisons with the untrained, non-dominant wrist were enabled by localised training isolating the muscles in the dominant wrist. After 6 weeks, power in the forearm had increased by 14 per cent, and endurance time by 34 per cent. Endurance time was up 58 per cent after the full 12 weeks.

The larger increase in enduance as opposed to power was more due to the training programme applied than an actual statement of the pattern of physical changes of training in the aged.



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