Build a stronger heart for a longer life



Advances in science and technology have given you the opportunity to live longer than ever before. As a 65-year-old, you can expect to live an average of 17.9 more years, much longer than your grandparents ever dreamed of, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.


So what will you do for the next 18 years? Sit and vegetate in your rocking chair or join the active, fun-loving seniors who enjoy life to the fullest? If you want your golden years to burst with vitality, then you need to actively find ways to strengthen your heart and reverse ill health.


That’s where fitness fits in. It’s not just about firm muscles, endless energy, or a trim waistline. It’s about giving your body the weapons it needs to fight off diseases like heart disease and diabetes. If you already have health problems, it’s about making the most of your situation.


Up to 300,000 people die each year from diseases or health conditions related to a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. On top of that, inactive lifestyles and unhealthy eating habits may cause as many as 14 out of every 100 deaths in the United States. In fact, sedentary people have double the heart attack risk of those who exercise regularly.


There are four types of exercises, two of which are especially important to fighting heart disease. Most important to maintaining a healthy heart are:

  • Endurance or aerobic exercises. By increasing your breathing and heart rate, these exercises improve the health of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. Having more endurance improves your stamina for the tasks you need to do to live and do things on your own — climbing stairs and grocery shopping, for example. Endurance exercises also may delay or prevent many diseases associated with aging, such as heart disease and diabetes, and keep you out of the hospital. What’s more, regular endurance exercise, like brisk walking, strengthens your immune system, relieves stress, boosts your mood, improves circulation, and lowers blood pressure.
  • Strength exercises. They will help build your muscles, but they do more than just make you stronger. They give you more strength to do things on your own. Even very small increases in muscle can make a big difference in ability, especially for frail people. Strength exercises also increase your metabolism, helping to keep your weight and blood sugar in check. That’s important because obesity and diabetes are major health problems for older adults. Studies suggest strength exercises also may help prevent osteoporosis.


The other types of exercises affect balance and flexibility. Balance exercises help prevent falls, a common problem in older adults. Falling is a major cause of broken hips and other injuries that often lead to disability and loss of independence. Some balance exercises also build up your leg muscles. Flexibility exercises help keep your body limber by stretching your muscles and the tissues that hold your body’s structures in place.


Physical therapists and other health professionals recommend certain stretching exercises to help people recover from injuries and to prevent injuries from ever happening. Flexibility also may play a part in preventing falls.


Rediscover youthful energy. But here’s some good news. Every time you exercise, you may be one step closer to saving your heart — or even your life. So why wait? You can grow younger in just about every measurable way — including your appearance, health, energy, and memory — by adopting healthy habits and a “can-do” attitude.


The first thing exercise does is boost your endurance and give you new energy. If you often feel exhausted, lack of exercise could be a factor. Think about it. When you don’t exercise your muscles and your other body parts, they aren’t as well conditioned to handle physical demands. Not surprisingly, that leads you to wear out more quickly. Scientists have nicknamed this problem “sedentary inertia.”


But exercise can be the answer — if you stay with it long enough. At first, the extra action will make you more tired because it places new demands on your body. On the other hand, you may sleep more soundly, too. Over time, your body will grow stronger and get used to this new level of activity. One day, you could suddenly realize you have more energy than you used to — and a lot more stamina.


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  • FC&A Staff Writer