Aging is inexorable; death is inevitable but neither should occur before their appointed time, says a philosopher who intoned, “You should stay so busy you never have time to notice you are growing old.”
By remaining active, age is held at bay and even conquered but it needs maintenance -the daily renewal of our physical powers and the regular use of our mental faculties.
Some 104, 099 Americans, by U. S census count, who are 100 or older, are apparently agreed that staying active is what sustains them. (Note: There are 85-year-old ballerinas who prove people can remain lithe and supple.) By 2050, the government projects, there will be 601, 000 centenarians on board, active and living well.
Today experts who study the elderly among us say that they’re looking at a redefinition of what being 100 years of age is. “100 may be the new 80 - perhaps the new 60!”
A sobering thought, of course, but people who study the relationship between exercise and aging contend that centenarians will be healthier and be able to do more things. No longer will they surprise.
H. R. “Hack” Fagan of Conway who turned 100 last May, wasn’t surprised when he reached the century mark. “I lived a full life and I took care of myself,” he told an interviewer.
Fitness gurus, locally and on the national level, rummage through data that suggest physical activity adds years to living. “It goes without saying that if you take care of yourself, stay fit and practice good habits, you’ll live longer,” says Rance Bryant, director of the Conway Regional Health and Fitness Center.
How much longer?
A Tufts College newsletter, reporting on a study conducted by the University of Cambridge Institute of Public Health, says it may be 14 years, if one engages in four simple habits - not smoking, drinking moderately, keeping physically fit, either on the job or in leisure time and eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
Look in at the fitness center any Monday, Wednesday and Friday for glimpses of Bill Fill doing his exercise stint. Bill is 99; he’ll be 100 on March 5. He is accompanied by his wife Dora Anna who is 92. They are marvelous specimens and the stars of the center.
“Our age doesn’t stop us, even though people don’t know what to make of us,” Mrs. Fill chuckles.
And so the evidence piles up. The contention that physical activity helps keep us healthy and living longer is very old news. Thomas Jefferson was a strong advocate of exercise, saying in 1786, “No one knows until he tries how easily a habit of exercise is acquired. Staying fit is one of the best moves you can make toward the goal of living a longer and healthier life.”
Bryant also emphasizes the salutary effects of exercise on mental acuity which translates to the possibility of living longer. “And not to forget the social aspects in an environment such as in the fitness center which is part of the process,” he suggests, “and this also leads to longer life.”
He points out that people today, as contrasted with those of past years, are more cognizant of the benefits of exercise and physical activity. Today 314 seniors in their 80’s and 90s are working out at the Conway fitness center.
More proof that you’re never too old to exercise comes from studies that indicate that people over age 70 live longer and better if they’re physically active. It was said that the idea of engaging in physical activity sets no upper age limit,
The University of Pittsburgh reports in one study that people who walked a least six miles a week reduced their risk of age=related memory problems by half. Their brains had more gray-matter volume after nine years than those who exercised less.
What is impressive is the certainty that exercise seems to prevent, ameliorate or delay many kinds of physical conditions, says Karl Lenser, a leading physical exercise advocate who directs the activities of the Hendrix College physical fitness plant.
“ The effect of exercise on the heart is well known; it is also beneficial in helping prevent diabetes and it has certain therapeutic effects on cancer, plus it seems to help the brain. Several studies have found that exercise may reduce symptoms of depression and delay the slide of cognitive decline into dementia,” says this health and fitness specialist.
From Aaron Leach, a physical therapist and trainer, comes the assertion that while he agrees that physical activity can lead to longer life, “many other facets must be considered, such as eating well, living in moderation, and dealing with the stresses of everyday living.” Be moderate in all things might well be his mantra.
“In addition, genetics play a vital role,” Leach says suggesting that this matter could well turn everything upside down.
The suggestion that it’s possible to add 14 years to your life is provocative. Jim Rawlins, 82, a retired social worker who is a serious fitness advocate and believer, says, “There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that activity can do it.” He pursues the goal of longevity with determination in his workouts, aerobics and strength training.
Irvin McKittrick, 80, a former electrical engineer, is certain that the expenditure of effort at the fitness center aids in his quest for longer life. “Many people in my family died before their time so I believe my longevity is attributed to my exercise habit. And that’s why I’m here. But I must not ignore my wife’s healthful cooking.”
From Lois Giorgis, a Conway artist and sculptor of excellence, at 82 is a devoted advocate of fitness and exercise. She says various forms of exercise and “keeping interested in life” sustain her and add to longevity.
To bolster the findings of the possibility of adding years to your life through exercise, consider these facts as delineated in a Tufts University publication:
“Smoking, diabetes, obesity and hypertension significantly reduce the likelihood of a 90-year old lifespan, while regular vigorous exercise substantially improves it. Furthermore, men with a lifespan of 90 or more years also had better physical function, mental well being, and self perceived health compared with men who died at a younger age.”
So, action is the key word here. It could be the panacea for long life.