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CAUSES OF AGING

 

Physical Activity and Aging

Decreases in physical activity and accompanying changes in body composition may cause some of the declines in body metabolism and cardiovascular function that occur with advancing age.

In addition, aging produces several changes in the ability of our body to acquire and deliver oxygen to the tissues. These changes include increasing stiffness of the chest wall, impaired blood flow through the lungs, diminished strength of each contraction of the heart, and decreased muscle mass. It is not surprising that because of these changes the physical work capacity of the average 70-year-old person is about half that of a 20-year-old. Although the decrease over this 50-year age span is progressive, the rate of loss accelerates after our mid-fifties.

Total body metabolism declines slightly but steadily. The maximum oxygen consumption with exercise, a measurement of fitness, declines more rapidly because of the decrease in lean muscle mass and a fall in maximum heart rate. While there is considerable variability among older individuals, the maximum oxygen consumption tends to be higher in physically active people than in sedentary individuals. It may be higher still in older athletes who are in training. Even after correction for height, weight, and other differences, maximal oxygen consumption is higher in men than in women.

Regular physical exercise is the best antidote to many of the effects of aging. The major benefits from regular exercise include:

  • Favorable effects on fats in the blood
  • Better handling of blood sugar
  • Increased maximal oxygen capacity
  • Greater strength
  • Denser bones
  • An improved sense of well-being
  • Better sleep

It has not yet been proven, however, that an exercise regimen reduces the chance of eventual disability or prolongs life expectancy. Nonetheless, these benefits are likely to be demonstrated in the next several years as a result of current studies in aging.

We have just reviewed how aging affects our bodies' control systems and defense systems, and that regular physical exercise may well forestall some of these changes. We must also consider some of the more visible manifestations of aging.

Next: The Impact of Behavioural Elements on Aging

Aging Causes Index | Why Skin Ages | Behaviour | Free Radicals | Exercise | Smoking | Cancer

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