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Better Late Than Never for Exercise

Seniors Can Still Get Healthier With Exercise
By
WebMD Health News

March 18, 2005 -- It's never too late to benefit from exercise, a new study confirms.

Regular exercise is universally recommended as part of a healthy lifestyle. It's repeatedly been shown to help hearts, challenge muscles, improve mood, lower stress, and burn calories. Weight-bearing exercise can also build stronger bones, which helps prevent osteoporosis.

But what if you've been a little slack about exercise -- or downright sedentary? Does your window of opportunity slide shut as the years gather? If you haven't laced up your sneakers in decades, should you just skip it and leave working out to the young?

Absolutely not, say Canadian researchers. Exercise can help people well into their golden years, they say.

No matter how many candles are on your birthday cake -- or how long you sat on the sidelines -- it's to your advantage to get moving to the best of your ability, the study suggests.

A decade of data backs the Canadian study. That's how long researchers monitored two groups of adults aged 55-75, watching for changes in fitness levels, heart disease risk factors, and other health problems.

When the study started, all participants were sedentary but healthy. Fitness and medical tests showed that they were roughly in the same shape. However, there was one key difference among them -- initiative.

Some adults took it upon themselves to contact the Canadian Center for Activity and Aging. They asked to sign up for a supervised exercise program. Those adults (266 people) hadn't been ordered to do so by a doctor; it was their personal choice, not part of rehabilitation.

The other 420 participants were randomly chosen from the same community. They hadn't voiced any interest in a formal exercise program. The researchers used them as a comparison group. Those adults were free to be as active as they wanted, but they weren't part of the structured exercise group.

Long-Term Commitment

The bar was set high for the exercise group. They attended three weekly aerobic sessions per week, jogging or walking for 30-45 minutes each time. The workouts were vigorous.

Participants were expected to make it to at least 80% of the available sessions. The proportion of participants meeting that standard for at least eight out of 10 years was "very high," say the researchers.

At follow-up, 161 active and 136 sedentary people were studied. There was no difference in drop-outs between the groups, say the researchers. Most of the exercise group met their criteria.

That's rare. "In our experience and supported in the literature, retention and compliance with these programs is difficult over the long term," they write, calling for more work to try to change that.

Some people in the comparison group (8%) said they had exercised during the study. That was fine with the researchers; they weren't about to discourage anyone from working out. However, those adults didn't exercise for more than 18 consecutive months, and none said they were following a specific training plan or guidelines.

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