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The Baltimore Sun

Fitness and aging

Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center will provide a guest post. This week, Deb Schulze weighs in on fitness and aging.

You’re never too old to adopt a fitness routine. People’s bodies are continually breaking down, repairing and then building the proteins that make up their muscles. At some point, people break down more protein than they build, and muscle loss occurs. Sarcopenia is the loss of lean muscle mass that starts at age 40 and accelerates after the age of 75.

“Muscle is the absolute centerpiece of being healthy, vital and independent as we grow older,” according to Miriam Nelson, director of the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Obesity Prevention at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston. “It keeps us strong and mobile.” However, we can slow muscle loss and actually build more muscle. Before starting in a new fitness regimen, it is important to consult with your health care provider to find out what limitations you might have.

Prevention of muscle loss

Exercise. Include 30-60 minutes of exercise every day, including strength/resistance training.

Consume adequate protein. Make sure you consume at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. To calculate your weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. Example: a 150 pound person would weigh 68 kilograms, therefore 68 times 0.8 is 54 grams of protein per day.

Eat a healthy diet. Current recommendations include the DASH or Mediterranean diets. Make sure to eat a well-rounded diet with adequate Omega-3 fatty acids. Aim for two servings per week of fatty fish such as salmon or tuna.

Examples of daily activities

Cardio-respiratory includes walking, swimming, dancing, skating, hiking and biking.

Strength building includes chair exercises, lifting weights, carrying laundry or groceries, working in the yard, washing the car or scrubbing the floor.

Flexibility activities include stretching, yoga, tai-chi.

Enjoy the benefits

The merits of regular physical exercise are hard to ignore. According to the Mayo Clinic, the benefits are yours to enjoy regardless of age, sex or physical ability. They include:

Prevention of chronic diseases. If you have a family history of high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and certain types of cancer, exercise is important in managing and preventing symptoms.

Weight management. Exercise can boost metabolism and help lose weight.

Improvement of mood. Brain chemistry responds positively to exercise.

Sleep better. Research has shown that people who exercise fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly than those that do not exercise.

Building muscles. Exercise increases muscle activity and thus burns calories.

Strong bones. All weight-bearing activity will help strengthen bones, which is especially important as you age.

Immunity. Exercise boosts the immune system by causing the blood to circulate more freely. It can reduce the frequency of flu, colds and illnesses.

Improvement in cognitive functioning. Research has shown that exercise delivers more oxygen and nutrients to the brain.

Strong heart and lungs. Exercise increases the rate of blood and oxygen through the circulatory system and makes the heart and lungs stronger, more resilient and efficient.

Improved quality of life. Studies indicate people report having better moods, sex lives, interpersonal relationships and overall health than those who do not exercise.

Starting an exercise program

Start slowly by choosing mild to moderate intensity activities that you enjoy.

Gradually increase the time spent by adding a few minutes every few days until you can perform at least 30 minutes per day.

As your regimen becomes easier, gradually increase the length of time or increase the intensity of the activity. Remember your limitations per your health care provider’s recommendation.

Vary your activities to broaden the range of benefits.

Acknowledge and embrace your accomplishments.

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