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Most Important Age for Exercise

Is it more important to exercise when you are young or when you are old?

Studies of Harvard and University of Michigan varsity letter-winners have shown that they do not live longer than their less-athletic classmates (Human Biology, February, 1970;42(1), but people who exercise regularly as they age live three to seven years longer than non-exercisers (PLoS Medicine, November 6, 2012). Other studies show that athletes have no lower risk of heart attacks later in life than their less athletic peers unless they continue to exercise as they age (Am J Epidemiol. 1978, 108 (3): 161-175). Former athletes who continue to exercise have lower blood levels of the bad LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, triglycerides and higher levels of the good HDL cholesterol that helps to prevent heart attacks. This is called reversibility. Every benefit gained by exercising is lost soon after you stop. Muscles enlarged by lifting heavy weights return to their previous size within a few weeks after you stop lifting. People who do aerobic exercise lose their slow heart rates and greater endurance soon after they stop regular workouts. Conversely, out-of-shape people can become more fit at any age when they start an intelligent and consistent exercise program.

Regular exercise is the most effective way to prevent the gradual weight gain that often comes with aging. If you are tired of being out of shape, check with your doctor. Then pick a continuous sport that you will enjoy doing, such as walking, swimming, cycling or dancing. Start out by exercising slowly and comfortably until your muscles start to feel heavy or hurt, and then stop for the day. Do this every other day and gradually increase the time you spend exercising, always stopping when your muscles feel heavy or hurt. When you can exercise continuously for 30 minutes every day, you are reasonably fit and don't need to do more unless you want to. However, I hope that you will have discovered that exercise is fun and will want to get even more involved.

Checked 1/2/16

May 10th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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