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Midlife Fitness Keeps Away Chronic Disease—New Research

Saturday, January 05, 2013


Midlife exercise and fitness doesn't just extend life, it enhances it by keeping away chronic diseases, according to research.

As you ponder New Year's resolutions, keep in mind that being physically fit during your 30s, 40s, and 50s not only helps extend lifespan, but it also increases the chances of aging healthily, free from chronic illness, investigators at UT Southwestern Medical Center and The Cooper Institute have found.

For decades, research has shown that higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels lessen the risk of death, but it previously had been unknown just how much fitness might affect the burden of chronic disease in the most senior years – a concept known as morbidity compression.

“We’ve determined that being fit is not just delaying the inevitable, but it is actually lowering the onset of chronic disease in the final years of life,” said Dr. Jarett Berry, assistant professor of internal medicine and senior author of the study available online in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Joseph Ciccolo, Ph.D., an exercise psychologist, researcher and physiologist with The Miriam Hospital’s Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine and Brown University, isn't suprised at the findings. "Physically fit individuals are well known to suffer from less disease and disability, and this allows them to live less stressful and more autonomous lives - regardless of their age at death," he said.

Exercise as a quality of life enhancer

While exercise is regularly promoted as a strategy to increase longevity, Dr. Ciccolo said, there are a number of important ways it can enhance a person's life.

"Exercise can improve mood and well-being and can effectively reduce the impact of certain mental illnesses," he said. "Exercise, particularly resistance training (i.e., weight lifting) can dramatically increase physical function, which, in turn, can allow someone to live an easier, more fulfilling and less hassled life. Exercise can also increase social connections and provide a way for people to bond to one another. All of these health-based quality of life benefits (as well as numerous others) are just as important at quantity of life (i.e., age)."

How much exercise?

"We know that being active for about 30 minutes a day can significantly reduce disease risks," said Dr. Ciccolo. "Going beyond that amount of time does not necessarily increase the beneficial effects of exercise; however, there are other clear benefits to be gained on an individual basis." The most recent recommendations for the quantity and quality of physical activity, according to Dr. Ciccolo, suggest that an exercise program should be modified according to an individual’s habitual physical activity, physical function, health status, exercise responses, and stated goals.

"Essentially, this means that the national recommendations of 150 min of at least moderate intensity aerobic activity along with two or more days/week of resistance training are not meant to be a one size fits all recommendation. Individuals of all ages can and should seek out ways to become physically fit that best match their needs and lifestyle," he said.


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