Even Light, Short Bouts of Exercise Benefit Older Men
Upon reaching retirement, most American men look forward to tossing their alarm clocks and spending time traveling, gardening, golfing and playing with their grandkids. While there are a few among the older set who continue to run marathons into their 90s, the rest approach getting or staying active with a little more difficulty.
Benjamin Levine, M.D., cardiologist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas, recently collaborated with researchers across the Metroplex at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine in Dallas to help publish a study in The Journal of Physiology uncovering how much exercise individuals need in order to prevent their heart and blood vessels from aging.
“This work is really exciting because it enables us to develop exercise programs to keep the heart youthful and even turn back time in older hearts and blood vessels,” Levine says.
Charles Kwaw, M.D., internist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Southwest Fort Worth and Cityview Family Physicians, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, says men, especially those over age 40, can battle the natural consequences of aging with simple life changes.
“It’s important for everyone — especially men in their 40s or older — to be active because we begin to lose muscle without any physical activity,” he explains. “Men can start by walking just 15 minutes per day or even five minutes three times per day and slowly increase their activity to a higher level but to something they can still easily handle. Work up a bit of a sweat to improve agility, mental health and things like blood pressure and blood sugar levels.”
Although studies have shown that it is never too late to start living a healthy, active lifestyle, Levine says that when it comes to reversing cardiovascular aging, odds become slimmer the older we get.
“It is difficult to change cardiovascular structure even with a year of training,” Levine says. “Our current work is focusing on two years of training in middle-aged men and women, with and without risk factors for heart disease, to see if we can reverse the aging of the heart and blood vessels by using the right amount of exercise at the right time.”
Nikquisa Nunn, personal trainer and cancer exercise specialist at Texas Health Fitness Center Fort Worth, says the struggle to stay healthy and fit as we age is real, but not insurmountable.
“Some of the most common health and fitness stumbling blocks that men have as they age are a lack of motivation, family obligations and/or busy schedules with work or community engagement,” she explains. “Some men also face the realization that their bodies are changing, and they get frustrated, not knowing how to deal with those changes.
“Our staff is well trained at offering workouts that lead to change and self-motivation by providing accountability that keeps our clients coming back and growing in their own motivation. Most importantly, we will keep you safe through the process of weight loss and increased lean muscle mass.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity OR 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, as well as muscle-strengthening activity at least twice a week for adults over age 65. If that sounds like a tall order, there’s good news: Activity can be broken down into 10-minute bouts throughout the week and still deliver health benefits.
Whether you’re the type who does best in a more structured setting like a fitness center or you prefer to exercise on your own, Nunn says a slow, gradual start is important for men wanting to get more active.
“Working with a personal trainer at a fitness center will ensure you are functioning and working out in the safest, most effective manner,” she says. “We offer programs throughout the year to help people kickstart their fitness journey, such as our nine-week Summer Shape-Up that ran from April to June.
“For those working out at home or in their neighborhood, it’s important to take the time to assess your current fitness level first and don’t overdo it at the beginning. Go slow, build up stamina and start with some bodyweight exercises, a light jog, and/or stretches.”
Moderate to vigorous activity is often recommended for maximum benefit, as researchers who published a recent article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found a 20 to 30 percent lower risk of premature mortality for active adults than their inactive peers. In addition, and perhaps even more motivating, is that the authors found that even light exercise served to extend the lifespan of older men, signifying that any activity is better than none.
Kwaw explains that overall health should be viewed like a three-legged stool, focusing on a healthy lifestyle (more activity), plenty of rest (six to eight hours of sleep per night) and healthy nutrition.
“Everyone is capable of making better choices but it’s especially important for men over 40,” he says. “If you smoke, stop smoking, and if you drink alcohol, drink in moderation by consuming no more than two drinks per day. Eating highly processed foods and those high in fat produces inflammation in the body that can lead to heart disease and stroke, so men need to focus on both being active and improving their nutrition.
“People over the age of 40 will gain two to seven pounds per year, so it accumulates slowly but before they realize it, they have gained a lot of that dangerous abdominal fat. An unhealthy diet leads men to store fat inside the abdomen and it poisons the internal organs including the pancreas, which leads to diabetes. When a person is developing diabetes, the risk of heart attack and stroke is very high.”
Whether you’re the type that has always tried to exercise regularly or you’re newly retired and finally feel like you have the time, experts say it’s never too late to get started. Nunn explains that no matter whether men choose to visit a Texas Health Fitness Center for help or strike out on their own, the important thing is to get moving.
“It’s very important as we age to maintain a level of activity,” she says. “The last thing you want to do is become non-active, which will lead to stiff joints, decreased muscle tone and increase body fat percentages. Anyone can start at home with bodyweight-type exercises such as squats, lunges and pushups.
“If you want help though, our professionally trained staff can provide a free orientation to help newcomers get it acclimated to the gym. We offer greatly discounted rates to help our members get started working one-on-one with a personal trainer. We take all the guesswork out of it, so you can be confident about knowing what to do.”
Kwaw says spouses or significant others can encourage each other to make healthier life choices by setting goals and working together as a team as they battle the middle-aged bulge.
“Changing behavior requires motivation, so spouses should be involved and active themselves to help each other,” he recommends. “Set a small, specific goal like taking a 15-minute walk three times a week so it’s achievable. Then set a goal to get 30 to 35 minutes of activity five times a week and work up to it safely, being careful not to hurt yourself.
“Work together to maintain a good, healthy weight and shop smart at the grocery store, avoiding simple sugars, highly processed foods and animal fat. Prepare meals together that are balanced with lots of vegetables and leafy greens, like salad and fish. If one spouse is doing it but the other is not, it’s hard to achieve your goals, so work together.”
If you’re ready to get started on your own journey to a healthier future, find a Texas Health Fitness Center near you to improve your fitness and ensure your retirement years are the best they can be.