Science Summary: Exercise and Aging (Cardio or Weights Part 9)

This post is a continuation on my series through Alex Hutchinson’s Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? All of the following questions are taken from this book and the answers are paraphrased from the authors words with my interpretations and thoughts added in.

— Scott

What’s the cumulative effect of all the exercise I’ve done over the years?

Short Answer:  Exercise slows down the effects of aging across the board.  Physical and mental deterioration can be prevented or postponed by exercise early in life.

Long Answer:  Scientists have determined an average rate of decline in quality of life associated with aging and research has found that exercise slows this decline.  Several studies have show that aches and pains late in life are not due to wear and tear but are actually correlated with acute injuries.  While some runners experience aches and pains later in life, these studies suggest they are still faring better than their counterparts who had not exercised.

Will running ruin my knees?

Short Answer:  No, it may slow natural degeneration as explained above but without injury it will not accelerate degeneration.

Long Answer:  A Stanford University study following 98 participants divided into running and sedentary groups found that only 20% of the runners experienced knee deterioration visible by X-Ray while 32% of the sedentary group showed deterioration.  Possible explanations for this include an inverse correlation between  activity levels and body weight.  By weighing less, less stress is put on the knee which may account for the reduced deterioration rate.  Another article published in Arthritis & Research found that over a 9 year period with a random sample of 1,279 test subjects, running did not play a role in the development of knee osteoarthritis.

How should I adapt my workout routine as I get older?

Short Answer:  Adapt according to the increased risk of injury but otherwise training should stay relatively the same.

Long Answer:  A 2007 study found that aging populations may require extra time for recovery between workouts but otherwise, exercise programs for aging individuals stays relatively the same as those of younger individuals.  Older athletes may benefit more from resistance and cross training as they slow muscle and bone deterioration.

How quickly will my performance decline as I age?

Short Answer:  Starting at age 35, fitness declines by about 10% (determined by VO2 Max) each decade.  Endurance tends to decline more quickly than speed.  Likewise, power drops faster than strength.

Long Answer:  When comparing the age-group world records in various activities, we see a steady decline of about 10% for every decade after the 30’s.  A study published in Experimental Aging Research found that constant activity slowed this decline dramatically.

How can I stay motivated to exercise as my performance declines?

Short Answer:  A University of Ottawa study found a complex combination of personal and social factors influencing motivation.  The top of these included personal enjoyment and the support of loved ones.

What are the pros and cons of exercising in water?

Short Answer:  While water based exercises may not be as effective, they present lower barriers to entry and may be more approachable by older athletes suffering from joint pain, obesity, and other conditions.

Long Answer:  Several studies have show that water based exercise can have a variety of benefits.  A 2009 study found that a 4-week water based regime resulted in greater back pain reduction than a comparable land based program.  A 2008 study of older women found that a water based exercise regime improved cardiovascular fitness more than a walking based program.  The benefits of water based programs are due to the reduced levels of impact and greater range of motion allowed to athletes with movement impairments.

What type of exercise is best for maintaining strong bones?

Short Answer:  Any kind of activity that places stress on the bones including resistance training and activities involving impact such as running.

Long Answer:  Bone is a lot like muscle in that it adapts to stresses placed on it.  Lifting weights a a way to do this that is able to target specific bones that are prone to injury such as the knee and the wrist.  Activities that do not involve skeletal stress, such as swimming and biking, do not improve bone strength.

Can exercise keep my DNA from aging?

Short Answer: Yes

Long Answer:  A 2010 study by the University of Colorado found that 45 minutes of vigorous exercise 5 times per week helped to restore and maintain telomere (the extra bit on the end of DNA which is cut when DNA copies) length which promotes cellular health.