Vigorous physical activity may stop you from looking and feeling old, it may even help you live longer. Just work at your own pace. You may be running a marathon, walking the dog or learning to use a new walker and whether you're 30, 60 or 90, endurance enables you to do what you want to do. Many believe that the benefits of exercise can be found in a pill, but a study by McMaster University researchers has shown that there is no substitute for exercise when it comes to keeping old age at bay.
Research from Tel Aviv University has found that endurance exercises like a jog or spinning class can make us look younger. Exercise unlocks the stem cells of our muscles. These exercises increase the number of muscle stem cells and enhance their ability to rejuvenate old muscles. Endurance exercises also improve the levels of 'spontaneous locomotion' — the feeling that tells our bodies to just get up and dance. Ageing is typically associated with a reduced level of spontaneous locomotion. Says Dr Ameet Pispati, orthopeadic surgeon, Jaslok & Breach Candy Hospitals, Mumbai, "The combination of ageing and a sedentary lifestyle contributes to the development of osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, as well as a decline in cognitive abilities."
Dr Kirti Nigalye, cardiovascular rehabilitation consultant, Cumballa Hill Hospital, Mumbai, advises, "Exercise should be guided by the fitness level and age of the individual. Apart from preventing premature ageing, monitored exercise programmes have shown beneficial effects on cardiovascular health and overall well-being." Performing endurance exercises strengthens and elongates the muscles for preparation of extended periods of use. Research has demonstrated that vigorous physical activity, especially if it is recreational, has been linked to increased longevity. Water exercises, including yoga and Tai Chi, have cardiovascular benefits for the elderly.
Dr Pispati says, "The recipe for healthy ageing is exercise. The problem is that most people find it a difficult recipe to follow. "
Tips to stay fit
Do a combination of exercises for six or seven days per week for at least 30 minutes per day. Get your blood pumping for at least 20 minutes per day by doing cardiovascular exercises. Build muscles by doing weight bearing exercises at least three times per week. Start slowly, with as little as five minutes of activity and progress gradually. If you've been sedentary, it may take you months to be able to move continuously for 30 minutes.
You may feel some discomfort in the beginning. Over time, you will get stronger and those early aches will fade. If you choose to embark on a vigorous activity and you're a man over 40, a woman over 50 or have risk factors for heart disease, consult a health professional first.
Which exercises are the best?
Endurance training: A 30-minute workout leaves you panting for breath, causing your heart to beat faster.You need not do this at a stretch, do it in three 10-minute or two 15-minute sessions with a little rest in between. Resistance and weight training: Exercises performed with weights and resistance-bearing objects target particular muscles. Stretching: These exercises can be done regularly to keep joints flexible. Yoga: Yoga asanas provide stretching and overall exercise, while pranayam or breathing exercises help you relax and reduce stress. Routine activities: Climbing stairs, cleaning your house and gardening can keep you physically and mentally nimble.
(Inputs by Dr Alakananda Banerjee, head of department for physiotherapy, Max Healthcare, New Delhi )
(Inputs by Dr Ameet Pispati )