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Graying, But Still Going

Graying, But Still GoingAs people age, says Tufts nutrition and fitness expert Miriam Nelson, they are increasingly looking for ways to stay physically fit and active.

Boston [10.17.07] These days, don't be surprised to see silver locks atop the heads bobbing at the starting line of Boston's legendary marathon, or an increasing number of older adults in the locker room at the health club. Whether they are playing competitive sports or simply working out, older people are looking for ways to stay fit. According to Tufts nutrition and fitness expert Miriam Nelson, this shouldn't come as a shock.

"I firmly believe that we have underestimated as a culture, and maybe even in the field of exercise science, what older adults are capable of doing," Nelson, an associate professor of nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, told the Los Angeles Times. "It's really important for people to realize that you should not underestimate what someone can do based on age, gender or chronic disease."

Nelson, director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts, helped author new recommendations by the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (where she is a fellow) for physical activity and health in adults ages 65 and older. The recommendations were published in the August 2007 edition of Circulation, the journal of the AHA. She is also vice-chair of the advisory committee making recommendations for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, due to be issued in late 2008.

"The promotion of physical activity in older adults should emphasize moderate-intensity aerobic activity, muscle-strengthening activity, reducing sedentary behavior, and risk management," according to the recommendations statement.

The guidelines encourage older adults to achieve the recommended 30 minutes of exercise five days a week by customizing workouts around their own abilities, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Strength and cardio training are also key to countering the decrease in muscle mass and aerobic capacity that comes with aging, according to the Times. In addition, the newspaper reported, stretching before working out and cooling down afterwards become more important as one ages to aid in flexibility and avoidance of injuries.

As people age, The Wall Street Journal reported, their exercise routines may need to evolve and incorporate activities that help improve balance and flexibility. Nelson told the newspaper that "a mixture of activity is optimal," blending high-impact and low-intensity exercises. She also said that older people should seek out trainers who know how to work with "people like you."

By maintaining an active lifestyle and a regular exercise routine throughout one's life, Nelson told the Times that the benefits will show decades down the line.

"Take a 30-year-old athlete who's vigorously active, at the top of their career. If they continue what they're doing, they'll be able to hold onto that for some time," she explained to the newspaper. "A 75-year-old will be more like a sedentary 35-year-old if they're fit."

Nelson says that aging can actually improve one's athletic performance by enhancing elements aside from physical fitness.

"I think there are a number of things that people do better as they get older," Nelson told the Times. "They're more disciplined, they train smarter, they're consistent with their training. Whatever sport you're in, you can be smarter from a competitive edge in terms of knowing yourself, how to pace yourself."

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