Without a doubt, the human body is a living machine designed for movement. In recent years, the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle have been extensively publicized. Newly published studies compare sitting for extended times to smoking cigarettes in terms of potentially increased mortality rates. At first, this seems to be hyperbole; after all, how could just sitting be such a health danger? But when you sit for long, extended times, your blood circulation slows, and fat begins to accumulate around vital internal organs, including the heart. Researchers advise people who must sit for extended times to get up at least every half hour or so and move around. But it's not just extended sitting that's the problem. The bigger problem is that many older people don't do any formal exercise at all. Ironically, many of these same people were active in their youth, participating in sports, or even working out regularly. Eventually, they stopped all forms of activity, often citing work and family responsibilities. When I read such statements, I think of the last three men that held the office of President of the United States. All of them--Clinton, Bush, and now Obama--somehow found the time to exercise several times a week. If the president can find time to exercise, no one else has any real excuse not to work out.
The physical penalties for avoiding exercise are steep in terms of health. While both aerobics and weight training are important for continued health and disease prevention, weight training is particularly vital for those over age 40. Consider that hormones tend to decline with age, and are directly related to physical activity. With a lack of physical activity, levels of GH, IGF-1, and testosterone decline faster than normal. All of these hormones play a role in maintaining lean mass, mainly muscle, and without the signal sent by exercise to maintain muscle, the body opts to reduce the release of these hormones. Ironically, the drop in these anabolic hormones adds to the problem of losing muscle with age. From head to toe, the body works on a "Use it or lose it" principle. Whatever isn't used regularly dissipates, whether that's neurons in the brain or muscle fibers. Eventually, after years of lack of exercise stimulation, muscles atrophy to the point where a person is too frail to even live normally and move around. This condition is called sarcopenia, which literally means a lack of muscle. Statistics show that 90% of those confined to nursing homes are there not because of mental problems, but because of severe frailty. Their muscles are so atrophied and weak that they cannot even feed and dress themselves. It's a high price to pay for decades of sedentary living. A 2010 study found that 80% of men and women over age 50 had too little muscle mass and too much body fat.
Unless you engage . . .