More research backs exercise for older people

Three women on a walk admire beautiful views in France, by Sabrina

Our bod­ies have evolved to thrive with activ­ity.
Without enough of it, they start to let us down
in all kinds of ways, as these sci­entific stud­ies
from the second half of 2012 seem to con­firm

Stay act­ive to stop your brain shrink­ing

Cognitive impair­ment in older people is linked to brain atrophy. A group of research­ers in Japan looked at whether daily phys­ical activ­ity could pre­vent or slow the rate of brain shrink­age. After study­ing 381 men and 393 women over eight years, the research­ers found a sig­ni­fic­ant link between activ­ity, daily energy expendit­ure and amount of brain atrophy. They con­cluded: “Promoting par­ti­cip­a­tion in activ­it­ies may be bene­fi­cial for atten­u­at­ing age-​related frontal lobe atrophy and for pre­vent­ing demen­tia.”

From: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise

Could exer­cise replace hor­mone ther­apy?

Post-​menopausal women, and their GPs, are more cau­tious these days about the use of HRT to off­set the symp­toms of men­o­pause. But sci­ent­ists are begin­ning to under­stand more clearly how the loss of oes­tro­gen to women’s bod­ies at this stage of life sets up all sorts of longer-​term prob­lems. Oestrogen plays an import­ant role in reg­u­lat­ing meta­bol­ism in women, so the loss of this cru­cial hor­mone can lead to weight gain, espe­cially around the centre of the body, increased risk of devel­op­ing Type 2 dia­betes, liver dys­func­tion and muscle weak­ness. According to the authors of this study, how­ever, “Every one of these alter­a­tions can be pre­ven­ted or reversed by increas­ing phys­ical activ­ity levels.”

This was quite an early-​stage study – it can­not tell us how much exer­cise you have to do, nor what type, in order to over­ride the increased risks post-​menopause. But they believe that if the loss of oes­tro­gen func­tion is “caught early”, the effects can be off­set by even low levels of phys­ical activ­ity. Conversely, they think that once meta­bolic changes have set in, it is likely to take much more strenu­ous exer­cise to coun­ter­act the pro­cess.

From: Exercise & Sports Sciences Review

Inactivity is a killer the world over

This study from mid-​2012 did a heap of cal­cu­la­tions to quantify how much dis­ease and death is the res­ult of phys­ical inactiv­ity; and also to hypo­thes­ise how many lives could be saved if we all moved a bit more. In sum­mary, they found that world­wide, phys­ical inactiv­ity accoun­ted for an aver­age of:

  • 6 per cent of heart dis­ease
  • 7 per cent of type 2 dia­betes
  • 10 per cent of breast can­cer
  • 10 per cent of colon can­cer, and
  • 9 per cent of pre­ma­ture death

That trans­lates, they say, to 5.3m early deaths attrib­ut­able to inactiv­ity, in 2008.

From: The Lancet
Click here to read what the edit­ors of the Lancet say about phys­ical inactiv­ity and what should be done

Do stat­ins make us weak?

Statins, say the research­ers in this study, are the most pre­scribed drugs in the world. They are highly effect­ive at lower­ing cho­les­terol levels and thereby redu­cing the risk of heart dis­ease. Increasingly, older people are encour­aged to take stat­ins as pre­vent­ive medi­cine.

Most people who take stat­ins exper­i­ence few or no side effects. But this study invest­ig­ated one of the more com­mon symp­toms, affect­ing almost 1 in 10 people: muscle pain, cramps and weak­ness. This is another rather early-​stage invest­ig­a­tion. But it high­lights two aspects that clearly need more research:

  • Exercise may exacer­bate symp­toms of muscle pain among statin-​users who suf­fer from this side-​effect
  • Insufficient Vitamin D will also make worse the muscle pain and weak­ness suffered by statin-​users who get this symp­tom

From: Exercise & Sport Sciences Review

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