Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Senior Citizens: Exercise!

I linked to a New York Times Magazine article last week about efforts to prolong optimum health through diet and exercise, as well as through (controversial) medical treatments. One of the folks profiled in the piece was Dr. Jeffry Life:
Life’s message is that if a fat, 59-year-old, divorced family physician from eastern Pennsylvania can reinvent himself through a combination of lifestyle alterations and modern pharmacology, so can you. (By the way, that makeover didn’t include his name. He was born Jeffry Life.) In June 2003, Life signed up as a patient with Cenegenics and a year later joined the corporate team, which now includes 40 staff physicians in Las Vegas and in branches in eight other cities, with five more scheduled to open soon.
Every year, Life gets a new set of beefcake photos taken. Now 71, he said he put on five pounds of muscle this past year by scheduling extra tae kwon do practices and cranking it up a notch in the weight room. He can bench-press 235 pounds and can do 10 pull-ups, “full extension.”
Here he is, all beefcakey:

A recent feature article about Dr. Life and his health quest captures his reaction to widespread disbelief that a septuagenarian could look this buff:
"Yeah, I read on the Internet that people think it's digitally enhanced," says the soft-spoken Life (which really is his name, translated from the German by his immigrant great-grandfather) with a laugh. But the body is real -- built by a relentless, six-day-a-week exercise regimen that includes hard cardio, heavy weights pushed to the max, martial arts, Pilates, a strict low-glycemic carb diet and lots of supplements.
In addition, he regularly undergoes testosterone and human growth hormone therapy -- something that "Life views as entirely appropriate, even necessary despite the medical evidence questioning both its effectiveness and safety."

If you're in the AARP set, you might not want to go balls-out with testosterone replacement or HGH injections, but Life's clearly on the right track when it comes to exercise. As Time Magazine reports:
[A] series of independently conducted studies on the effects of exercise in healthy older adults, published on Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, confirms that logging time at the gym not only helps maintain good health but may even prevent the onset of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, osteoarthritis and dementia.
  • Exercise makes you smarter. Older women who regularly weight-trained "saw an improvement in their performance on cognitive tests of memory and learning as well as in executive functions such as decision-making and conflict resolution" while those that didn't saw no such improvement. (Women who hit the weights just once a week "improved their scores in executive functioning by 12.65.")
  • Elderly persons who exercised more than three times a week were found to be "half as likely to have developed dementia, compared with the people who reported no physical activity."
  • Jogging a little is good, but jogging a lot is better: "Compared with women who jogged for 20 minutes a week, those who jogged three hours a week or walked briskly for five hours a week were 76% more likely to age successfully, free of chronic illnesses such as cancer and heart disease, as well as mental and physical impairment."
  • Elderly women who regularly exercised four times a week for 18 months -- doing a variety of moves, including aerobics, balance moves and weight training -- "improved their bone mineral density by nearly 2%." Meanwhile, women who focused only on walking, muscle relaxation and breathing skills saw just a 0.33% increase in bone density -- and had a 66% higher risk of experiencing a fracture-causing fall.

The upshot: It's time to turn off the "Murder She Wrote" reruns and crank out some push-ups.