Lifelong Exercise Habits Can Keep Your Heart And Muscles 30 Years Younger

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Seniors that have regularly exercised for decades are now fabulously fit and healthy in their 70s and 80s

You probably don’t need to read yet another article about how exercise is good for you, but the results of a new study are amazing enough to take a good long look at. Researchers at the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University have found that seniors who have been regularly exercising for decades have the hearts of 30-year-olds and the muscles of 25-year-olds.

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The study, which was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology last month, took a look at three different groups of people: people in their 70s who have been regularly running or cycling for the past four to five decades, people in their 70s who have been mostly sedentary (except for activities like walking and golf), and a group of 20-somethings who regularly exercised like the first group.

Scientists measured their heart health through a cycling test and then measured their muscle health through a biopsy and two other tests, which analyzed how well their muscles used oxygen, carbs, and fat.

The results were dramatic: the seniors who were lifelong exercisers had hearts of 40-year-olds and muscles of 25-year-olds, while sedentary seniors had the weaker systems that we’ve come to expect from aging.

“We saw that people who exercise regularly year after year have better overall health than their sedentary counterparts,” the study’s lead author, exercise physiologist Scott Trappe, told NPR. “These 75-year-olds — men and women — have similar cardiovascular health to a 40- to 45-year-old.”

He added:

Exercise wins is the take-home message.”

Researchers said there was no visible difference between the exercising 75-year-olds’ muscle samples and the 25-year-olds’ muscle samples, and that hearts of the lifelong exercisers were functioning like that of a healthy 40-year-olds.

Trappe explained that we haven’t been able to study the benefits (or drawbacks) of lifelong exercise until recently, because regular exercise, like running, only became widely popular in the 1970s. But now that the men and women who began running and biking 50 years ago are seniors, we can study how they’re faring down the road.

What they’ve found is that getting your heart rate up for 30 to 60 minutes a day on most days is all you need to significantly slow down the decay of your cardiovascular and skeletal-muscular systems, even into your 80s and beyond. This is especially important to know since people are living longer and want a better quality of life as they age.

Even better news? Trappe says that even if you can’t exercise with an elevated heart rate for about 7 hours a week, either running or cycling, like the group of lifelong exercisers did, any amount of sustained and consistent exercise is going to help you be healthier.

“If you want to do 30 to 45 minutes of walking a day, the amount of health benefit you are going to get is going to be significant and substantial,” he said. “Will it equal the person training for competitive performances? No. But it will outdo the couch potato.”

While the study was small, Trappe told the New York Times that its strong findings imply that getting weak and frail throughout your 70s and 80s may not be inevitable – and that young people may have a chance to “build a reserve” of good health now that they can enjoy for decades to come.

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