Searching For The Fountain Of Youth

fountain of youthBy Jacquie Eubanks BSN, RN

Just as Dorothy always held the power to return home to Kansas, the key to the Fountain of Youth is, and has always been, right there beside you.  You won’t need a wizard, a good witch and sparkly red shoes, but you will need a good pair of sneakers.  The secret to a youthful life is…….exercise!  According to a study at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, older people who engage in endurance exercise training receive the benefit of a metabolically younger heart.  The study showed that participants who took part in exercise training that involved walking, running, or cycling doubled their glucose uptake during the high energy demand, just as younger hearts do.  Low glucose uptake during increased energy needs can raise the risk of heart attack and put the heart in an energy-deprived state.  When glucose uptake is increased, the heart is better protected against ischemia and heart attacks.  In other words, the study showed that these formerly sedentary older adults had major improvements in heart health after 11 months of exercising three to five times per week. 

Physical activity can improve the quality of life and slow the consequences of aging on the cardiovascular system.  People who exercise regularly live longer and healthier lives than those who don’t.  Physical exercise has a very positive effect on the severity of many cardiovascular disease risk factors including hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity.  Exercise increases blood flow which in turn lowers blood pressure and helps to prevent plaque buildup in veins and arteries, further reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.  As blood flow increases and lungs become better conditioned, more oxygen and nutrients are pumped throughout your body to cells, organs and tissues. 

The American Heart Association has set a goal to improve by 20% the heart health of all Americans by the year 2020 through behavior modification and tackling unhealthy lifestyle habits.  Many Americans are in poor heart health based on seven factors:  diet, exercise, smoking, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.  Exercise alone can improve many of these risk factors and is one of the least expensive, safest ways to prevent chronic disease that can take years off your life span.  Regular moderate intensity exercise helps to maintain healthy glucose and insulin levels and reduces the risk of insulin resistance, an underlying factor of many chronic diseases.  People who maintain an active lifestyle have a 45% lower chance of developing heart disease than their sedentary peers. 

Physical activity and a healthy diet offer the greatest amount of heart protection.  Even when you pay close attention to your diet, without exercise you are still at risk for heart disease.  Studies suggest that it is not the duration of a single exercise session that reduces risk factors. What counts is the total weekly amount of energy expended.  In other words, any and all exercise is better than none as every minute actively spent helps to strengthen your heart.  Think of exercise in terms of every day activity.  The more you move, the better your fitness.  The many benefits include improved circulation, reduced inflammation, weight loss, flexible blood vessels, reduced stress, better sleep, improved cholesterol levels, increased energy, a fitter, firmer body, the release of endorphins, the feel good hormones, and healthy, successful, and youthful aging.    

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