Studies show that an active lifestyle is the most effective, non-pharmaceutical way towards healthy ageing and long life.
WHAT makes us age, and can we do anything about it? Looking at the rapidly increasing number of older adults around the world, these burning questions cause sleepless nights for many among us.
Researchers, and even governments, are interested in the formula for a long and healthy life.
So, what are the answers?
Generally, the complex ageing process boils down to our genetic code and lifestyle.
While we cannot do much when it comes to our genes, we have a strong say in how we live our lives.
Researchers have shown that despite the belief that the way we eat plays a major role in how well we age, the secret ingredients are not smoking and doing physical activity.
Further studies even conclude that an active lifestyle is the most effective, non-pharmaceutical way towards healthy ageing and long life.
Interestingly, this is not a really new concept, as the dangers of inactivity were acknowledged by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (428-348 A.D.) when he urged his people to exercise in order to maintain their health.
Nineteenth-century British physicians concluded that beds and graves fall in the same category, highlighting the strong health impact of being physically “lazy”.
In recent years, scientists wanted to know whether this anecdotal evidence could be backed up with research results. And after many studies, it is clear that physical activity can indeed increase life expectancy.
Older adults who gradually started exercising expanded their lifespan up to 3.5 years.
Now, you could ask what is so special with being physically active, and how does physical activity help us to grow older in good shape?
Physical activity increases the strength of the heart and enhances blood flow.
This is important because older adults often suffer from deadly diseases which are related to the heart.
It has been found that older adults who are highly active enjoy up to 3.2 years longer life without any heart disease.
These promising effects do not exclusively apply to people who have been active throughout their lives. Even for those who didn’t do much physical activity when they were young, light activities like walking are beneficial for the ageing heart.
Not convinced? No problem. We are getting there!
You might have heard about telomeres. These tiny, little proteins sit at the end of the chromosomes in our DNA.
Their length is the most important marker of biological ageing because it acts as an indicator of diseases and death.
Physical activity increases or maintains the length of telomeres. Those who are active are biologically 10 years younger than their inactive contemporaries. They also respond better to vaccines and do not experience so many infections.
If that does not convince you to be more active, then the following probably will. Regular physical activity also makes you look younger and fresher.
Research from the United States tells us that the waist circumference does not increase so fast in active seniors, and fat mass can be reduced by around 4% after only three months. Hence, even when you start physical activity right now, you might see and probably feel the results after a short time.
There is more – physical activity can also make your brain grow. This is especially true in areas of the brain that are related to memory and learning.
Hence, if you are active or even if you become active, you do not need to worry about the normal 1-2% brain shrinkage per year (starting from 55 years). You will remember and learn much easier, and you might even outperform those youngsters with a couch-potato lifestyle.
Finally, physical activity improves your well-being, and it can reduce the risk of dementia and depression by about 89% and 50% respectively in people who are in their 80s.
Physical activity enhances your health, and the more you do, the more you benefit. It is never too late to start physical activity.
Older adults who are just starting physical activity should remember to start slowly and gradually increase their level.
Let us learn from Japan, which currently has the highest number of people over 100 years old.
These centenarians have been active throughout their lives, with physical activity levels higher than their peers. Their activity levels have contributed to their health and longevity.
It is easy to start by just adding some simple activities to your daily life. Every bout of 10-minute activity will boost your health and help you remain independent.
Thirty minutes of physical activity per day, at least five days per week, as recommended by the World Health Organization, will bring benefits you will see and feel. You don’t need to train to qualify for the next Olympics. You could simply take the stairs and resist the temptation of the lift; or you could walk to the grocery shop across the street; or go out for a walk and also catch some vitamin D.
At the end of the day, there is almost no excuse for not being active. You can never be too old, too busy or too inexperienced. Every step you take is pure medicine for your body and your mind.
You are your own doctor and you can decide the dose. It is not magic; it is as simple as getting out of your chair and being active. Enjoy!
> André Müller and Dr Selina Khoo are with the Sports Centre, University of Malaya, and part of the University of Malaya’s Malaysian Elders Longitudinal Research (MELoR) group. This article is contributed by The Star Health & Ageing Panel, which comprises a group of panellists who are not just opinion leaders in their respective fields of medical expertise, but have wide experience in medical health education for the public. The members of the panel include: Datuk Prof Dr Tan Hui Meng, consultant urologist; Dr Yap Piang Kian, consultant endocrinologist; Datuk Dr Azhari Rosman, consultant cardiologist; A/Prof Dr Philip Poi, consultant geriatrician; Dr Hew Fen Lee, consultant endocrinologist; Prof Dr Low Wah Yun, psychologist; Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist; Dr Lee Moon Keen, consultant neurologist; Dr Ting Hoon Chin, consultant dermatologist; Prof Khoo Ee Ming, primary care physician; Dr Ng Soo Chin, consultant haematologist. For more information, e-mail email@example.com. The Star Health & Ageing Advisory Panel provides this information for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star Health & Ageing Advisory Panel disclaims any and all liability for injury or other damages that could result from use of the information obtained from this article.
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