NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Maintaining aerobic fitness through middle age and beyond could delay the aging process by more than a decade and prolong independent living, according to a new review of research on aerobic fitness and dependency in old age.
Twenty years ago, Dr. R. J. Shephard of the University of Toronto in Ontario and his colleagues proposed that adequate aerobic capacity was a key factor in helping very old people to maintain a high quality of life and live independently. In a review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Shephard analyzes the latest data on the issue.
Regular aerobic exercise improves the body's ability to take in oxygen and use it, but a person's maximal aerobic power falls steady as people age.
According to Shephard, studies of aerobic training response in older people have shown that workouts, especially more intense physical activity maintained for a longer duration, can improve aerobic power. In fact, seven studies of this type of exercise found people's aerobic power increased nearly 25 percent -- equivalent to reversing 12 years' worth of aging-related loss of fitness.
Based on his review, Shephard concludes that elderly people who engage in progressive aerobic training can maintain their independence longer, in effect by turning back the clock on the loss of aerobic fitness that occurs with aging.
Other positive spin-offs of aerobic fitness include reduced risks of serious illness, faster recovery after injury or illness, and reduced risks of falls due to maintenance of muscle power, balance and coordination.
"There remains a need to clarify the importance of deteriorations in fitness relative to other potential causes of dependency but, from the practical viewpoint, regular aerobic activity can address many of the issues of both functional loss and chronic disease," he writes.
SOURCE: British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2008.