Fighting the aging process? Exercise the key

A lot of the problems attributed to aging are really caused by sedentary lifestyles, a new study says. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Many people spend a lot of money trying to turn back the hands of time. But doctors say the best anti-ager of all is free.

A study in the September issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says exercise has the power to minimize or delay the effects of aging.

Researchers in Providence, Rhode Island, studied data on a group of elite senior athletes and found that exercise minimized joint and bone decline and kept them in far better overall health than others in their age bracket.

The study results came as no surprise to Thomas Sherman, a biochemist and associate professor at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, who is working to spread the message of the positive benefits of lifelong exercise and good nutrition.

“I am 59 and run 10 kilometers every day,” says Sherman, who leads students on group runs and organizes potluck meals focusing on healthy foods.

He says the data are clear, and calls the study results “gratifying.”

Sherman says the numbers show that these older athletes were not necessarily blessed with lucky genes, and that it was the exercise itself that helped them beat back the clock.

“What these studies make very clear is that it is the exercise that improves the ligaments; it is the exercise that keeps bones strong and prevents calcium loss; it is the exercise that prevents muscle wasting as we get older,” he says.

The authors of the study say that much of the musculoskeletal deterioration usually linked to aging is the result of a sedentary lifestyle, underscoring the power of cardio, weight training and flexibility exercises to maintain bone density, muscle mass, ligament and tendon function and cartilage volume.

And Sherman says it is definitely OK to start off easy and gradually build. He says anyone embarking on an exercise program needs to be smart about it, and those who begin with a walk, sooner or later, can move up to a jog and even a run.

Sherman says he hopes these studies act as an incentive to encourage people to remain active and, if they haven’t been active, to get moving.

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