A new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that fitness level, not body fat, was a stronger predictor of longevity for adults ages 60 and over.  Even overweight seniors who walked for as little as 30 minutes a day most days of the week had improved survival over the seniors who were normal weight but sedentary.  Incredibly, in most instances, death rates for those with higher fitness were less than half of rates for those who were unfit.   

This is great news for seniors and yet once again a reminder that sometimes the key to good health is as simple as donning a pair of sneakers and taking a daily walk outdoors or at your neighborhood mall.  This study is also consistent with a lot of recent research showing that for seniors – the functional status or ability to get around and perform usual daily activities – is more important that having a number of chronic diseases.   

For seniors who think it is too late to begin an exercise program, think again.  My 83 year-old father recently moved to a first floor apartment with my mother who was having trouble negotiating stairs in their two-story home (my mother has severe heart disease and arthritis of both knees which limits her mobility).  The apartment has a wonderful small gym with both a treadmill and an exercise bike.  For the first time ever my dad began to use the gym hoping to gain some strength and to get into better shape to help my mother get around.  He was tentative at first, exercising for only 10 minute increments.  Before he realized what was happening to his strength and endurance however, he has worked himself up to about 30 minutes a day.  He admitted it was boring at first, but the challenge and need to be strong to help my mother gave him encouragement.  Today he is much stronger than he has been in a long time, his balance is better, and his feeling of confidence and accomplishment is incredible.  With this new study in JAMA, I can also assure him that although there are no guarantees, that simply walking 30 minutes daily will help increase the odds he will have many more years left to enjoy his life and his children and many grandchildren. 

For all of us, regardless of age, this study is one more reminder that regardless of our body weight and success with dieting, staying fit by walking 30 minutes most days (even in short increments of lets say 10 minutes at a time) can’t help but be good for us in the long run.  Too often I hear patients who are having trouble losing weight think it is hopeless to walk or work out.  Even if you can’t control all that you eat or your weight or waist size over the holidays or at other times – you can feel good that by staying active and fit you will be doing a lot to add good years to your life.   

Share this information with a friend or family member who could use a little encouragement or even a walking partner.  Buy a pedometer as a stocking-stuffer for a friend (they only cost a few dollars at the most) and suggest they set a goal of only 10,000 steps a day!!!  Remember, every step you take toward good health counts for the long run. 

Happy walking!!! 

Dr. Marie

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