Does Exercise Benefit the Elderly?
“Can Exercise Alter the Aging Process?” That was a headline in The New York Times nearly five years ago. The article reported: “Medical scientists from Tufts University [in Boston] have found that people as old as in their 90’s can become stronger and even increase the size of their muscles if they are put through an aggressive weight-training regimen.”
The evidence that the elderly can indeed benefit from exercise has continued to mount. The February 1991 issue of the Harvard Health Letter reported on a 1990 study, saying: “Nine [nursing home residents] between the ages of 87 and 96 completed two months of high-intensity resistance training using weights.” Regarding this study, the Mayo Clinic Nutrition Letter explained: “Participants nearly doubled leg muscle strength, increased thigh muscle size by 9 percent and improved performance on mobility tests.”
The researchers reported: “The favorable response to strength training in our subjects is remarkable in light of their very advanced age, extremely sedentary habits, multiple chronic diseases and functional disabilities and nutritional inadequacies.” The value of exercise has been proved time and again.
For example, consider 90-year-old Jack Siebert, who suffered a stroke in 1979 that paralyzed his right side and left him unable to walk without the help of a walker. Practically every morning for over ten years, he has lain in bed and held his unparalyzed left leg aloft, moving it for about 20 minutes in the motion one would use in pumping a bicycle. At times he will support the paralyzed right leg on the left one (as seen in the picture) and rotate the two together. Not only has this regular exercise strengthened his leg muscles so that he can still walk with a walker but it has helped him to maintain his cardiovascular system and has kept him alert mentally.
So, remember, it is never too late to start exercising. True, you may never run the Boston Marathon—a 26-mile, 385-yard [42 km] race—in five hours and five minutes, as did 82-year-old John Kelley in 1990. Nor is it likely that you will even be able to complete that distance in seven hours and nine minutes, as did the 84-year-old great-grandmother Mavis Lindgren in 1991. Nevertheless, Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association, urged last year: “It’s important to get in the habit of looking for ways to be active.”
The journal explained: “Even low-intensity activities performed daily can have some long-term health benefits and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Such activities include walking for pleasure, gardening, yard work, house work, dancing and prescribed home exercise.”
[Picture on page 23]
An elderly disabled person can benefit from exercise, as has this 90-year-old stroke victim