Pump iron at any age

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

October 2010

When they came into the exercise room for the first time some of the would-be-weight-lifters needed walkers or wheelchairs. After all, their ages ranged from 87 to 96 years and this was a rehabilitation center for the aged. Yet in just a few weeks these frail folks, burdened by so-called diseases of aging, transformed themselves by lifting barbells and dumbbells and using weight machines.

Under careful supervision by physicians and physical therapists, patients who had been unable to get out of bed unassisted or to dress themselves did so on their own. Those that had rarely left their rooms because of weakness and fatigue began to cruise the corridors — without their walkers. One 93-year old remarked "I feel as though I were 50 again!"

They named their fitness center Old's Gym although it was furnished and staffed by a major medical center. Their motto: no one is too old to exercise.

Nature designed our bodies for moderately intense physical activity and that includes more than a daily stroll. During hundreds of thousands of years of lifting, carrying, throwing, pushing and pulling, the human body evolved to depend on such vigorous activity in order to work properly.

Bones become stronger when they have to carry a heavier load. Exercise reduces the pain of arthritis, postpones the dementia of aging, lowers the risk of Alzheimer's disease, improves immune function, and may help to ward off glaucoma and gallstones.

Some cautionary notes: never start an exercise program without instruction and supervision. Individuals who appear healthy but who have not had a medical examination in the preceding year should be checked for conditions such as high blood pressure that can develop without any symptoms. Persons with heart disease need to have an exercise routine that accommodates their particular limitations. Learn how to warm up and cool down properly. Find out which exercises are actually harmful; there are several dozen that are safe, even for the frail elderly. Above all, don't overdo it. Your joints, tendons and ligaments are more fragile than they were when you were a teenager.

It only takes a couple of weeks to reap the benefits of exercise, especially the mood elevation and increased energy that exercisers enjoy. Exercising several times a week can make the oldest of us more independent and help us to enjoy a richer quality of life. Think about that as you pump iron tomorrow morning!

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.