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  • Sheri Colberg, PhD

Combat the Effects of Aging with Exercise

If you could take fewer medications and/or lower insulin doses, what would it be worth to you? For many of us with diabetes, there is nothing we value more than good health. In a very real sense, exercise is medicine—actually eliciting better health than prescribed medications in many cases. Being physically active can help prevent obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes (or “double diabetes” if you have type 1), and other chronic conditions that plague people with diabetes more often than others.

But what about slowing down aging? Is that possible? Older people tend to be quite sedentary nowadays, and being sedentary negatively impacts health, making it difficult to separate the effects of not moving from those of getting older. A recent study of active older people published in the Journal of Physiology in January 2015 found that very active older individuals resemble much younger people physiologically. Their findings also suggest that many of our expectations about the inevitability of physical decline as we age may be incorrect and that how well we age is, to a large degree, up to us—even with diabetes as an added hurdle.

While past research has shown that bodily functions decline with age, many of those studies failed to differentiate between what was caused by aging itself and what was due to being a couch potato. The recent study, though, reported that older adults who are very active don’t show their age. On almost all measures, their physical functioning remained fairly stable across the decades and was more like that of young adults than of people their age. They exhibited a younger person’s level of balance, reflexes, metabolic health, and memory. Others have found that master athletes retain muscle mass and insulin sensitivity like younger adults as well. Of course, some things still decline with aging, such as maximal aerobic capacity and nerve function, but not as quickly if you stay active.

Getting more physically fit, making small changes to eat healthier, incorporating some kind of physical movement into everyday life – these truly are the main keys to health, longevity, and preventing additional health complications. Leading a healthier lifestyle does not necessarily mean hitting the treadmill every night or becoming a fanatic about exercise, however. Walking for 30 minutes each night after dinner or during a lunch hour (or even for 10 minutes at three different times during the day) has powerful preventive effects and requires just a pair of comfortable walking shoes. There are many other ways to become more physically active as well that don’t involve joining a gym.

Truly, exercise is medicine—an inexpensive, safe, and effective prescription for better health. Aging is truly slowed down by being active and diseases are prevented, so do whatever you can to stay that way—and enjoy having a body that continues to function more like you’re a young person for many years to come.

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