Dr. DeVries of USC has shown that men and women in their 70s and 80s can achieve levels of vigor associated with people 30 years younger. This means that assuming there are no underlying disorders, exercise can make an 85-year-old as strong as a 55-year-old person. Regular participation in physical activity can raise the fitness level of an active 64-year-old to that of an average, sedentary 30-year-old.

In 1984, Dr. Bortz, co-chairman of the American Medical Association’s Task Force on Aging and past president of the American Geriatrics Society, took all the information he had gathered over many years and compiled them in a review paper titled “Disuse and Aging” for the Journal of the American Medical Association. Bortz concluded that if you recorded a list of all the changes in the human body that are attributed to aging and then compiled a similar list of changes due to physical inactivity, you would notice a striking similarity between the two lists. For example, changes associated with both aging and inactivity include changes in muscles, bones, brain, cholesterol, blood pressure, sleep habits, sexual performance, psychological inventory and so forth. The near duplication of the lists demonstrates that many of the bodily changes we have always ascribed to the normal aging process may really be caused by disuse. It is imperative that older adults understand the significance of this information and are educated as to how to prevent many of these changes with activity.

The founder of the American Running and Fitness Association, Richard Bohannon, MD, says that more than half of all older adults believe they get enough exercise through minimal walking and routine activities. In truth, more strenuous activities provide greater fitness gains and more preventative benefits; with proper supervision, older adults are perfectly capable of training at higher intensities. Gerontologists tell us that once we reach the age of 50 the need for fitness is even more crucial due to the many physiological changes that occur with age.

Another myth of aging is that as you get older, you naturally become more fragile. However, when we look at the bones of older runners, like the runners mentioned previously, we see minimal loss of bone due to the continual force applied to the bones over many years of running. Wolf’s Law, named for the German pathologist who first proclaimed it, states: “The robustness of a bone is in direct proportion to the physical forces applied to that bone.” In short, if we remain active our bones will remain strong. Participation in vigorous exercise and recreational activities regularly over a lifetime can yield rewards garnered well into the later years of life. Adults who lead a sedentary existence lose bone density and increase their risk of fracturing bones in accidents in their homes or of becoming unable to perform daily living activities. People who continue to lead healthy, active lives into their later years are at less risk for such serious and debilitating injuries. Researchers at UCLA performed a study on 4,300 people. Of that population, only 12% who exhibited few or no unhealthy habits became disabled over the next decade. Nineteen percent of those who had many bad habits paid the price by way of illness, disability and death.

Healthy habits not only reduce the risk of fatal heart attacks and cancer, but also reduce other chronic ailments that can be physically, psychologically and financially debilitating. The bottom line is this: The more exercise has been a constant in your life the better your chances are of living long and well.

Older adults who want to maintain physical and emotional independence must engage in regular exercise.

International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) 8th Edition Text