New Findings in Aging and Exercise
America can be a country full of paradoxes. While our we are known for our obsession with youth and beauty, the United States is also the second fattest country in the world with over one third of all Americans classified as obese.[i] And as obesity rates among children and adults continue to rise, so does the amount of money we invest in health and fitness products. From gym memberships to diet foods, American’s spend over $60 billion a year just to try and shed pounds.[ii] What seems to get lost in this obsession with being thin and finding a quick fix to lose weight is the toll that extra pounds and a sedentary lifestyle can take on your overall health. This is especially true for older Americans who may find it more difficult to get around as they age. The equation is pretty simple: the less you move, the harder it becomes to move and the consequences can be far reaching and go beyond what you see in the mirror.
Exercise and Hormone Levels
Chances are you have seen commercials for hormone replacement therapy. According to recent studies, this trend in pharmaceutical marketing has Americans convinced that their lethargy is the result of hormone imbalances that can be regulated with the correct drug. Men, in particular, are being targeted by advertisements that promise them increases in energy, muscle mass and sexual vitality.
This has created an influx of patients heading to their doctors requesting testosterone therapy, while only a small percentage actually suffers from low levels. A study by the British Medical Journal found that only 3.2% of men in their sixties actually suffer from abnormally low levels of testosterone. So while prescriptions for different testosterone drugs have been on the rise, actual incidents of the condition known as “Low T” have stayed the same.[iii]
According to Dr. Kathleen L. Wyne of Houston’s Methodist Hospital Research Institute, most men who have slightly lowered levels of testosterone would see their levels return to normal if they lost 15 to 20 pounds. She adds that “Most of these guys actually have 50 pounds to lose.”[iv]
In truth, it is difficult to separate all the different variables that contribute to low testosterone and energy levels and pinpoint the source. As men age, they will naturally experience reduced hormone levels. Combine aging with some extra weight and a sedentary lifestyle and most men will experience symptoms similar to abnormal hormone levels. If that is the case, then why shouldn’t men take testosterone and experience the benefits?
For starters, testosterone therapy can cause serious cardiovascular problems. In a 2009 study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine, men who were given testosterone replacement therapyexperienced a four-fold increase in cardiovascular problems. This alarmed researchers so much that they prematurely ended the study due to safety concerns.[v] In addition, testosterone gels can be easily transferred to others and cause a variety of symptoms in women, children, and even pets who come into contact.
Many doctors and experts argue that pharmaceutical companies have turned the symptoms of aging and obesity into a disease that can be cured by hormone replacement therapy. A more sensible approach to changes in moods, libido, and energy levels is to increase physical activity and lose that extra weight so that your body can achieve a natural state of homeostasis. In addition, it might be time to accept and embrace the process of aging instead of fighting it with cure-all drugs.
Yet another Argument FOR Exercise
Another recent finding concerning seniors and mobility only further emphasizes the importance of physical activity in maintaining quality of life. Dr. Cynthia Brown, the Director of Geriatric Medicine at University of Alabama at Birmingham found that elderly patients who have been hospitalized spend only 43 minutes a day on their feet. This is despite the fact that seniors start to lose muscles mass and loss of strength after just a few days of bed rest. In addition, as mobility decreases, the risk of other complications like blood clots and pneumonia increase.[vi]
These facts would be scary enough if they were limited to the duration of the hospital stay, but the truth is that most seniors never return to their previous level of mobility after just a few days spent bedridden. According to Brown, “If we put you in bed for the typical three- to five-day stay, we might tip you over the edge.”[vii] Regular exercise, even if that just means doing a lap around the hospital floor a few times a day, is so beneficial that elderly patients are typically able to return home two days earlier if they engage in daily walks.
Unfortunately, many seniors and their caregivers tend to shy away from exercise because they are afraid of injury. The key is to take advantage or mobility tools and equipment that can help you increase your activity while also preventing unnecessary strain. For example, a simple and cost effective stair lift can help you navigate indoor and outdoor stairs so that aren’t limited to the first floor of your home or have to worry about climbing slippery porch stairs. With the right equipment, you can continue to safely increase your mobility.
It should come as no surprise that issues of health go way beyond vanity and that quick fixes are too good to be true. Despite the many attractive headlines that urge you to “fight the signs of aging,” there is nothing you can do to stop or reverse aging. However, regular exercise can ensure that you enjoy a better quality of life and avoid having to take unnecessary drugs and hormones. Why try to combat symptoms with solutions that cause a host of different symptoms when you can get to the root of the problem with regular exercise?
[i] “Obesity Rates Rising: 10 Fattest Countries in the Developed World.” Huffington Post, 22 Feb 2012. Web. 31 May 2013.
[ii] Williams, Geoff. “The Heavy Price of Losing Weight.” U.S. News and World Report, 2 January 2013. Web. 31 May 2013.
[iii] Andriote, John-Manuel. “Should the Modern Man be Taking Testosterone?” The Atlantic, 5 April 2013. Web. 31 May 2013.
[iv] Andriote, John-Manuel.
[v] Andriote, John-Manuel.
[vi] Span, Paula. “Trapped in the Hospital Bed.” The New York Times, 30 May 2013. Web. 31 May 2013.