The aging of the Baby Boomer Generation and the surging of obesity and diabetes to epidemic levels are focusing attention on the healing powers of physical fitness.
The Wall Street Journal reports that a 30-year study of five men shows that almost anyone can get a second chance at youthful fitness. The study began in 1966 when five healthy 20-year-old college students loaned their bodies to science by staying in bed for 20 straight days followed by intense exercise.
Three decades later, the same five men, now in their early 50s and bigger around the waist, signed on for a follow-up to examine the effects of aging on the cardiovascular system. Researchers were astonished by what they found: The three weeks of bedrest back at
age 20 was more damaging to the men's aerobic capacity than 30 years of aging.
To assess cardiovascular fitness, researchers used a measure called VO2 max, an indicator of the body's ability to use oxygen at maximum exertion. 'Oxygen is the key molecule in life that allows us to make energy in our bodies to do physical work' says Benjamin Levine of Presbyterian Hospital and University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, and a researcher on the study.
When the men reunited for their 30-year follow-up, all five had gained at least 20 pounds each, and a couple much more. Then the men began a carefully controlled, six-month aerobic exercise program. They all reached their target performance: VO2 max readings equivalent to those when they first entered the study at age 20. That doesn't mean the men can run a quarter mile as fast, as they could in their youth, but it does suggest their endurance is essentially as good as it was then.
The results of this study offer the prospect that starting a moderate but consistent exercise program later in life (even after years of falling out of shape) can restore aerobic capacity to levels one had as a young adult. It's never too late to establish an exercising ritual within your daily activity.
Why not take a walk today, tomorrow and, maybe even, everyday this week?