Health Notes: Exercise helps chase off Father Time

You, our readers, have asked for it, so SNEWS® is delivering it: Beginning with this first Health Notes report, we will begin publishing occasional looks at research studies, results and reports that relate to health, fitness, physical activity and wellness. Our goal is to provide you with nuggets of information and condensed insights that will help you serve your customers better and conduct your business with more confidence, be that developing and tweaking equipment and related gear or selling it to the public.
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You, our readers, have asked for it, so SNEWS® is delivering it: Beginning with this first Health Notes report, we will begin publishing occasional looks at research studies, results and reports that relate to health, fitness, physical activity and wellness. We'll also present them in plain English, without all the techno-garble that can make many research studies seem overwhelming to read, let alone understand. Our goal is to provide you with nuggets of information and condensed insights that will help you serve your customers better and conduct your business with more confidence, be that developing and tweaking equipment and related gear or selling it to the public. Let us know what you think, what you would like to see, and how you'd like to see it.

Cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease, high blood pressure, dementia, hip fractures: among many of the medical problems that seem to come on with age. Or do they?

According to a recent review of research on exercise, everyone can slow the tick of the age clock, live longer and, above all, leave more vitally and healthier with the right mix of moderate and regular exercise. It seems many of the changes and diseases attributed to age really are related to disuse, wrote Harvey Simon, professor medicine at Harvard Medical School in this month's issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch.

"You live longer, but you won't feel that way because exercise improves the quality of life all the way through," Simon told SNEWS®.

In his article, which Simon said applies equally to women, most Americans begin to experience "aging" by the time they are 25 to 30, with target heart rate lowering by about one beat a year, the heart's capacity to pump dropping by 5 percent to 10 percent per decade, and a weight gain average of about three to four pounds a year, most of which is fat.

"Of all causes which conspire to render the life of a man short and miserable, none have greater influence than the want of proper exercise" -- British poet John Gay

Moderate and regular exercise doesn't mean committing all your off hours. Simon noted that only about 30 minutes every day, even just brisk walking, will go a long way. The ongoing Harvard Alumni Study shows that you can gain two hours of life for each hour of exercise, adding up to about two extra years -- which will be healthier and happier ones, to boot, Simon added.

"Nobody over 40 is going to pooh-pooh two extra years," he said.

"Resting is rusting" -- Actress Helen Hayes

One extra point he stressed is that it's never too late to start. That point was studied in the so-called Dallas Bed Rest and Training Study in the '60s in which several healthy 20-something men spent three weeks resting in bed. After they got up, researchers found that just in the three weeks many had developed physiologic characteristics of men twice their age. The rest was followed with eight weeks of exercise, which not only reversed the declined but improved readings in most of the participants.

"Exercise is not the fountain of youth," said Simon, who is also editor in chief of the newsletter, "but it is a good long drink of vitality, especially as part of a comprehensive program that includes aerobic exercise, strength training and stretching."

For the fitness industry, Simon said that both manufacturers and retailers of equipment and gear should keep it simple.

For suppliers: "Anything that will get people moving is good. Make it simple and user friendly." He said he realizes why extra technology such as heart-rate monitoring was added to machines, "but it's really irrelevant. The idea is just doing something.

"Some consumers are turned on by the bells and whistles and some are turned off," he said. "Make it user friendly. There are a lot of people, especially older people, who are just intimidated by the features."

For retailers: He suggested that retailers and the sales staff understand the value of moderate exercise, not just intense workouts, and that they focus on the customer and not the doo-dads and features of some machine or piece of equipment.

"The key then is to find what is important for an individual. Something that they'll use. One is not really better than another. Ask, 'What do you want to do,' 'What have you done before,' and 'Why are you interested?'"

He stressed that sales staff should ask about a person's goals, experience, interests and space to help guide them.

"I hope to get people away from the concept," he said, "that they have to push themselves to give themselves health benefits."

"That which is used, develops; that which is not, wastes away." -- Hippocrates

The newsletter is produced by Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School (www.health.harvard.edu).

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