Are you someone who enjoys exercise or are you more of a couch potato? We all know the benefits of exercise – it is good for body and mind. Maybe you’re reluctant to start exercising because you think it’s already too late. You have not exercised much in your life, so why start now? Well, a new study has found that it’s never too late to take up exercising. New research from the University of Birmingham has found that older people who have never taken part in sustained exercise programmes have the same ability to build muscle mass as highly trained master athletes of a similar age.
The research shows that even those who are entirely unaccustomed to exercise can benefit from resistance exercises such as weight training. In the study, published in Frontiers in Physiology, researchers in the University of Birmingham's School of Sport and Exercise Science compared muscle-building ability in two groups of older men.
The first group were classed as ‘master athletes’ – people in their 70s and 80s who are lifelong exercisers and still competing at top levels in their sport. In the second were healthy individuals of a similar age, who had never participated in structured exercise programmes.
Everyone benefits from exercise
Each participant was given an isotope tracer in the form of a drink, and then took part in a single bout of exercise, involving weight training on an exercise machine. The researchers took muscle biopsies from participants in the 48 hour periods just before and just after the exercise, and examined these to look for signs of how the muscles were responding to the exercise. The isotope tracer showed how proteins were developing within the muscle.
The researchers had expected that the master athletes would have an increased ability to build muscle due to their superior levels of fitness over a prolonged period of time. In fact, the results showed that both groups had an equal capacity to build muscle in response to exercise.
“Our study clearly shows that it doesn’t matter if you haven’t been a regular exerciser throughout your life, you can still derive benefit from exercise whenever you start,” says lead researcher Dr Leigh Breen. “Obviously a long term commitment to good health and exercise is the best approach to achieve whole-body health, but even starting later on in life will help delay age-related frailty and muscle weakness.
“Current public health advice on strength training for older people is often quite vague. What’s needed is more specific guidance on how individuals can improve their muscle strength, even outside of a gym-setting through activities undertaken in their homes – activities such as gardening, walking up and down stairs, or lifting up a shopping bag can all help if undertaken as part of a regular exercise regime.”
Should it be high intensity or low intensity?
The experts also say that high-intensity exercise, while not essential, is good for your heart and lungs.
D Jeff Coombes from the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Studies at the University of Queensland, says there's good evidence the more intense exercise you do, the fitter you’ll be.
The reason moderate-intensity exercise is emphasised by public health experts is because half of us do little or no exercise at all.
“If you're one of these people, switching from being inactive to exercising moderately is great bang for your buck,” Professor Coombes says.
“You'll significantly cut your risk of heart disease, Australia's biggest killer, for a relatively small increase in effort. You also take a significant step towards warding off diabetes, stroke and probably a host of other conditions, too.”
While you can further reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes by working harder while exercising, the reward for your extra effort is comparatively smaller.
The experts fear the advice to go hard may scare off those who are totally inactive.
Professor Coombes says exactly how much healthier you'll be for your extra effort depends on the disease you're trying to prevent.
If you have diabetes and want to improve or reverse your symptoms, then exercising at a higher threshold of intensity might be critical.
“We know moderate-intensity exercise is very good for preventing the onset of diabetes but for people who already have it, it seems moderate intensity might not be enough to reverse it or improve the symptoms,” he says.
Can you exercise too much?
Is there a chance of having a heart attack or stroke from too much exercise? Professor Coombes stresses the importance of being assessed for factors that increase the odds of heart attacks or strokes from exercise prior to starting any exercise program.
Treating those risk factors usually means exercise is still possible, but it may have to be tailored to your needs. However, some people’s health conditions may mean they should stick to lower-intensity exercise.
Professor Coombes says the greatest area of increased risk from exercising harder is probably muscle or joint problems. “You need to be careful. Listen to your body, don't do too much too soon,” he says.
The benefits of exercise
1. It makes you happy.
Exercise improves mood and decreases depression, anxiety and stress. Exercise can increase the production of endorphins. It produces changes in the parts of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety. It can also increase brain sensitivity for the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which relieve feelings of depression.
2. It helps you lose weight
Some studies have shown that inactivity is a major factor in weight gain and obesity. While dieting, you will lower your metabolic rate, which will stall weight loss. Regular exercise increases your metabolic rate.
3. It Is Good for Your Muscles and Bones
Exercise plays a vital role in building and maintaining strong muscles and bones. Physical activity like weight lifting can stimulate muscle building when paired with protein intake. This is because exercise helps release hormones that promote the ability of your muscles to absorb amino acids. As people age, they tend to lose muscle mass and function, which can lead to injuries.
4. It Can Increase Your Energy Levels
Exercise can be a real energy booster for healthy people, as well as those suffering from various medical conditions. One study found that six weeks of regular exercise reduced feelings of fatigue for 36 healthy people who had reported feeling tired.
5. It Can Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Disease
Lack of regular physical activity is a primary cause of chronic disease. It improves insulin sensitivity. In contrast, a lack of regular exercise can lead to significant increases in belly fat, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and early death.
6. It Can Help Skin Health
Regular moderate exercise can increase your body’s production of antioxidants, which help protect skin cells. In the same way, exercise can stimulate blood flow and induce skin cell adaptations that can help delay the appearance of skin aging.
7. It Can Help Your Brain Health and Memory
Exercise can improve brain function and protect memory and thinking skills. To begin with, it increases your heart rate, which promotes the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain. It can also stimulate the production of hormones that can enhance the growth of brain cells.
8. It Can Help With Relaxation and Sleep Quality
Regular exercise can help you relax and sleep better. The increase in body temperature that occurs during exercise is thought to improve sleep quality by helping it drop during sleep.
9. It Can Reduce Pain
Recent studies show that exercise helps relieve chronic pain. A review of several studies indicates that exercise helps participants with chronic pain reduce their pain and improve their quality of life. Additionally, physical activity can also raise pain tolerance and decrease pain perception.
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