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Aging and the Decline in Physical Activity 

Aging and Physical Activity:

Obviously, the aging process usually results in decreased physical activity and accompanying changes in body composition, which may result in some declines in body metabolism and a reduced functioning of your cardiovascular system.  Also, the aging process results in several changes in the ability of our body to acquire and deliver oxygen to its tissues.  These changes also include increasing stiffness of the chest wall, frequently and impaired blood flow through the lungs, reduced strength with each contraction of the heart and decreased muscle mass.  It's probably not that surprising that because of these physical changes, that aging takes a toll frequently on the physical work capacity of the elderly.  The work capacity of the average 70-year-old is about half that of a 20-year-old.  Many experts believe that the decreases in work capacity over this 50 year period of time are progressive, with the rate of loss usually accelerating after an individualís mid-50ís. 

Aging and metabolism: 

The total body metabolism of an aging person will decline slightly but steadily over time.  The maximum oxygen consumption during exercise (which may be considered a measurement of fitness) declines more rapidly because of the decrease in lean muscle mass and due to a reduction in the maximum heart rate as we get older.  While it is very important to understand that there is great variability among different individuals, the maximum oxygen consumption tends to be higher in physically active people much more than in sedentary individuals.  It is even higher in older athletes who are still in training.  Maximum oxygen consumption is higher in men than women even after correcting for height, weight and other differences. 

Aging and physical exercise: 

Many studies are continuing to find that regular physical exercise is the best antidote to many of the effects of aging.  The many benefits from regular exercise include favorable effects on reducing fats in your blood, better handling of blood sugar, increased maximum oxygen capacity, greater strength, denser bones, improved sense of well-being and better sleep.  While it has not yet been proven, many feel that an exercise regimen reduces the chance of eventual disability and prolongs life expectancy.  Current studies on aging however will probably demonstrate over the next several years, that many of these benefits truly do occur as a result of regular physical exercise. 

Some information from the American Geriatrics Society Complete Guide to Aging and Health by Mark E. Williams M.D.

Additional information and web page by Paul Susic M.A. Licensed Psychologist Ph.D. Candidate (Health Psychology) 

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