GAPA Health Watch: Getting Fit and Staying Fit Over 50

September is Healthy Aging® Month, an annual health observance designed to focus national attention on the positive aspects of growing older.

Online PR News – 29-August-2012 – August 29, 2012 Atlanta, GA – For many people, developing a fitness routine starts at a young age and may continue throughout their lifetime. For them, exercise is part of their lifestyle, and as they age they continue to be active. But for others, especially those over 50 years of age, is it too late to develop a healthy lifestyle? Are the risks associated with sports injuries greater than the benefits of becoming more fit?

September is Healthy Aging® Month, an annual health observance designed to focus national attention on the positive aspects of growing older. The Georgia Association of Physician Assistants (GAPA) wants to remind all Georgians that getting fit and healthy can be one of the most positive steps a person can take, at any age.

"I see adult patients of every age who have led a very sedentary lifestyle and others who have a very active lifestyle," said Mary Vacala, ATC, PA-C, MSPAS, DFAAPA. Vacala is GAPA’s immediate past president and practices at Chatham Orthopaedic Associates in Savannah, GA. "Almost overwhelmingly, those patients who have a regular fitness routine or remain active are healthy overall. Their bones are stronger, muscles are more flexible, and exhibit better cardiovascular health. When something does go wrong, they tend to heal more quickly than my patients who don’t exercise."

According to Carolyn Worthington, editor-in-chief of Healthy Aging® Magazine and creator of September is Healthy Aging® Month, it’s never too late to find a new sport, passion or hobby.

“You could consider picking up a sport you may have enjoyed years ago, such as tennis, hiking cycling or golf,” continued Vacala. “But if you haven’t been active in a while, start slowly and build up your routine to prevent injuries. Exercise for the health of it, and eventually this will become the most rewarding part of your day. I tell my patients to set small goals in the beginning, and gradually increase their workouts. The ultimate goal is to exercise daily for thirty plus minutes.”

Physical changes caused by aging affect the heart, lungs, bones, muscles and nervous system. According to John E. Morley, MD, when younger athletes exercise, the size of the muscle in the walls of the heart chambers increases. This, in turn, enhances the force with which the heart can pump, producing a higher cardiac output and, therefore, a lower heart rate. In other words, the heart is able to slow down because it is working more efficiently. In older athletes, heart muscle size is not increased by exercise to the same degree.

As a person ages, they lose both muscle strength and muscle mass, and according to Morley, with age people also lose some of their ability to control the firing, or activation, of our muscles. This leads to loss of coordination and strength. Morley also points to a marked decline in blood flow to the brain in the aging athlete, which is associated with a decrease in reaction time. The sense of balance may also deteriorate and the aging body may actually consume less oxygen per heartbeat.

Bone loss, a particular worry for women, is a problem that also comes with aging. Women tend to have less skeletal mass than men and lose bone more quickly. After menopause, women lose bone at an average rate of 2% to 3% per year, while men of the same age lose bone at a rate of only 0.4% per year.

“Although the rate of bone loss can be reduced through regular exercise, it cannot be prevented,” Vacala added. “All older people, even athletes, are predisposed to bone fractures.”

Aging also brings a marked decrease in flexibility. According to Morley, this is caused mainly by changes in the body's connective tissue, combined with arthritis. Lack of flexibility means that knees, hips, and other joints must bear greater stress during exercise, rather than dissipating it to surrounding tissues, such as nearby muscles, as the body did when it was younger. This stress can gradually destroy the joints.

“Older athletes should do extra warm-up and flexibility exercises in order to prevent injury,” cautioned Vacala. “As with all stretching exercises, these should be performed with a steady and smooth motion.”

Although a person’s general fitness performance may begin to decline after the age of 50, older adults should not stop exercising.

“On the contrary, exercise is very beneficial to seniors,” said to Sarka-Jonae Miller in the Over 50 Exercise Plan. “Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, lowers the risk of heart disease and the risk of falling, and improves the quality of life for seniors. Men and women over 50 should engage in regular cardiovascular and strength training. Generally speaking, they can do the same exercises as a person under 50, but at a light to moderate intensity.”

For women over 50, regular physical activity may even help tame some of the symptoms of menopause -- hot flashes, joint pain, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems, according to WebMD. Exercise also reduces heart disease risk, osteoporosis and diabetes risk, helps control weight -- and even melts belly fat.

But how much exercise do adults need? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those ages 18-64 need two hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week plus muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). For adults 65 years of age or older, who are generally fit and have no limiting health conditions, the CDC recommends following those same guidelines.

“Being physically active can prevent health problems that seem to come with age and help your muscles grow stronger so you can keep doing your day-to-day activities without becoming dependent on others,” said Vacala. “You don’t have to have to join a gym or get any special equipment. Start with a good pair of walking shoes.”

Georgia’s Physician Assistants are committed to making sure all Georgians have the tools they need to live a healthier lifestyle and has launched the "Get Fit with GAPA" initiative to help reduce and reverse Georgia’s alarming increase in obesity rates and promote better fitness and eating habits. GAPA is also working with the Georgia State Park system to promote healthy hikes by distributing free State Park passes to patients through the Rx for Fitness program.

“You don’t need to alter your lifestyle drastically,” advised GAPA’s Public Information Chair Ben Taylor, PA-C, PhD. “Just choose activities that you enjoy and can do regularly, such as taking a brisk walk around your neighborhood or hiking in a Georgia State Park.”

Every bit of movement counts as exercise. Vacala recommended looking for opportunities in everyday activities. For example:
* If you have a dog, take it for a walk every day.
* Take the stairs instead of the elevator. At home, take the stairs at home as often as you can, even if you don’t have a reason.
* Get up from your desk to talk with co-workers, rather than sending emails. If you need to meet with co-workers, go outside and make it a walking meeting.
* Walk briskly whenever you can.
* When shopping, Park your car far from the entrance and enjoy a stroll to the door.
* Find a sport, game, or activity you enjoy. Take tennis lessons, for example.
* When travelling, take your walking shoes with you, and let your feet be your mode of transportation to see the sights!


Healthy Aging

Sports Injuries and the Aging Athlete, John E. Morley, M.D.

Over 50 Exercise Plan by Sarka-Jonae Miller

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – How much physical activity do you need?

Exercise Tips for Women Over 50

The mission of the Georgia Association of Physician Assistants is to promote high quality, cost-effective, accessible healthcare as part of a physician-directed PA/physician team in Georgia. To learn more about how PAs make healthcare more affordable and accessible in Georgia, please visit and click on “Patients.” GAPA also offers “Find a PA,” a free searchable database for healthcare consumers with listings of Physician Assistant providers throughout the State. Learn more about GAPA’s health initiatives, “Get Fit with GAPA” and “Rx for Fitness,” at

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