Almost 50 percent of Americans die of heart attacks and strokes, diseases that are associated with a faulty diet and lack of exercise. Almost 80 percent are overweight or obese, which is also associated with lack of exercise. Yet only 13 percent of people over 65 engage in vigorous physical activity three or more days a week. Among those over 75, only six percent exercise regularly.
Master athletes are older men and women who compete in sports at a very high level, no matter how old they are. They are healthier than age-matched people in virtually every category that has been measured (Nutrition Today, Volume 40, 2006). Of course they are more fit, as measured by their maximal ability to take in and use oxygen. They have lower cholesterols, comparable to those of people in their twenties. They have lower glucose tolerance and HBA1C screening tests for diabetes. They have lower waist-to-hip ratios, decreasing their risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes. They have far less body fat.
Many people who have never exercised are afraid to start an exercise program. They should check with their doctors and get a special exercise stress test. If they pass the test, they are at low risk for complications during exercise. Then they should join an organized exercise program. One study showed that 85 percent of middle aged Americans who start an exercise program quit in the first six weeks. Those most likely to remain exercised with a spouse or friend, used a personal trainer, or participated in classes such as aerobic dancing or spinning. Successful lifelong exercisers usually make their sports part of their social life, not just a tedious chore.
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