The Influence of Exercise on Health & Aging

Exercise Helps Us Feel Young Inside

Hey readers, I know I’m addressing an audience that considers exercise essential for maintaining health and reducing effects of aging. Nevertheless, I came across this article titled,  “Declining performance of master athletes: silhouettes of the trajectory of healthy human aging?” by Norman Lazarus and Stephen Harridge; and thought I would share some of their ideas with you. And, after reading this article, I'm convinced that you are definitely on the right track when it comes to the positive influence exercise has for health and aging!

Indeed the authors start out by claiming “...while population demographics clearly show an increase in lifespan, for many this is not being accompanied by equivalent years of good health or concomitantly increased ‘healthspan’. An objective of aging research is not to increase lifespan per se, but to increase the ‘healthspan’ and to compress morbidity in later life.”

Models to explain aging were mentioned in this article like, mitochondrial dysfunction or telomere lengths and free radicals, that you may have heard of before. However, to understand the influence of exercise on health and aging, the authors propose a “Set Point Model” which “...predicts how health, age and exercise are interlinked. Health here is defined as the state in which sufficient physical activity/exercise is undertaken in order to maintain physiological function uncontaminated by inactivity.”

Physical Activity At Set Point: Healthspan maintained and morbidity compressed

As the graph above shows individuals at setpoint for physical activity are active enough to maintain their healthspan and compress morbidity in later life, whereas, individuals below setpoint have difficulty maintaining healthspan and compressing morbidity. Yet, differing from masters athletes, these individuals are unlikely to train for competitive events, like running races. How much physical activity would one have to do to be at setpoint and maintain their healthspan? Most countries have recommended physical activity guidelines. Where I live, there is the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines, which is 150 minutes of moderate–vigorous physical activity and two muscle strengthening sessions per week. How one spreads out 150 minutes over the week is up to the individual, but five sessions of 30 minutes each is one way.

Some moderate intensity activities include:
-Walking briskly
-Hiking on flat terrain

Some vigorous intensity activities can be as intense as:
-Hiking up hilly terrain 
-Jumping rope
-Sports with significant movement (e.g., basketball, football/soccer, hockey, etc.)

Some muscle strengthening activities can be exercises such as:
Physical Activity Above Set Point:: No further gains to health or aging trajectory but increased athletic performance possible

As the graph above shows, competitive masters athletes, with physical activity levels above setpoint to increase their athletic performance, shouldn’t expect their healthspan to be above those individuals at setpoint, which isn’t too surprising. It’s often been said that, while running may not add years to your life, it adds life to your years. Yet, while competitive sports for masters athletes may not lead to increased physical longevity, there are plenty of benefits that competitive sports bring such as:
-Enhanced athletic performance is possible
-Increased general well-being
-Pride in one’s athletic status
-Strengthens social bonds and sense of belonging to a community

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If you would like to read Lazarus & Harridge’s article, go to this LINK .

For resources on optimal aging, check out: McMaster University Optimal Aging Portal .

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