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JERUSALEM – Older adults who exercise seem to live longer and have a lower risk of disability, says a new study.
JochananStessman and colleagues at Hebrew University Medical Centre and its Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, studied 1,861 individuals born in 1920 and 1921.
Participants underwent assessments in their homes at ages 70, 78 and 85 years during which they were asked about their physical activity levels.
Those who performed less than four hours per week of physical activity were considered sedentary.
Those who exercised about four hours weekly, performed vigorous activities such as jogging or swimming at least twice weekly or who engaged in regular physical activity (walking at least an hour daily) were considered physically active.
The proportion of participants who were physically active was 53.4 percent at age 70, 76.9 percent at age 77 and 64 percent at age 85.
Compared to sedentary individuals, those who were physically active were 12 percent less likely to die between ages 70 and 78, 15 percent less likely to die between ages 78 and 85.
Seventeen percent were less likely to die between ages 85 and 88. They were more likely to remain independent and experienced fewer declines in their ability to perform daily tasks.
The benefits associated with physical activity were observed not only in those who maintained an existing level of physical activity, but also in those who began exercising between ages of 70 and 85.
“Although the mechanism of the survival benefit is most likely multifactorial, one important finding was the sustained protective effect of physical activity against functional decline,” the study authors write.
Physical activity arrested the decline by improving cardiovascular fitness, slowing loss of muscle mass, reducing fat, improving immunity and suppressing inflammation, says a Hebrew University release.
These findings appeared in the current issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
In addition to measuring flexibility, touching your toes may indicate your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Performance on sit-and-reach tests can be a sign of the risk of an early death heart attack or stroke among people 40 years old and older, according to a study in the American Journal of Physiology.
Since arterial stiffness often heralds cardiovascular disease, a test of how far you can reach beyond your toes from a sitting position could be a quick, easy, inexpensive indicator of how stiff your arteries are.
“Our findings have potentially important clinical implications because trunk flexibility can be easily evaluated,” said one of the authors, KentaYamamoto. “This simple test might help to prevent age-related arterial stiffening.”
Although it isn’t known why flexibility of the body in middle age and older would be related to arterial flexibility, the authors speculate that stretching exercises may trigger physiological reactions that slow the stiffening of arteries connected with aging.
Healthy blood vessels are elastic, and elasticity helps maintain healthy blood pressure. Arteries stiffen with age, and stiff arteries are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and death. Previous studies have shown that physical fitness can delay arterial stiffness and the authors of this study theorize that a flexible body could be a quick way to determine arterial flexibility.
The researchers divided 526 healthy, non-smoking adults ages 20 to 83 into three age groups: young (20-39), middle aged (40-59), and older (60-83), to perform a sit-and-reach test. They sat on the floor with their backs against the wall and their legs straight. They slowly bent forward and reached out with their arms. They were classified as either poor or high flexibility, depending on how far they could reach.
The study found that trunk flexibility was a good predictor of artery stiffness among middle age and older volunteers but not among the younger group. They also found that systolic blood pressure (the highest pressure that occurs when the heart contracts) was higher in poor flexibility than in high flexibility groups.
“These findings suggest a possibility that improving flexibility induced by the stretching exercise may be capable of modifying age-related arterial stiffening in middle-aged and older adults,” Yamamoto said. “We believe that flexibility exercises, such as stretching, yoga and Pilates, should be integrated as a new recommendation into the known cardiovascular benefits of regular exercise.”
However, there are other possibilities as to why bodily flexibility should be an indicator of arterial stiffness, including the possibility that the amount of collagen and elastin, which makes muscles flexible, also makes arteries flexible.