Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What happens to endurance as we age?

Normal aging process and endurance

Endurance decreases as we age. In one study of more than 3,000 70-79-year-old men and women, researchers investigated the relationship between the speed at which these subjects walked ¼ of a mile and their risk of premature mortality, cardiovascular disease, and mobility limitation. The results showed that those with the slowest walk times (>6 minutes) had a higher risk of death, cardiovascular disease, and mobility limitation than those who walked the distance in less than four and a half minutes. In fact, every additional minute of walking time was associated with higher and higher degrees of risk; approximately 13% of the participants could not even complete the distance due to fatigue or symptoms (breathlessness, cramping, etc.).

There's good news when it comes to fitness, walking endurance, and health. In a classic study of walking and mortality in 700 men enrolled in the Honolulu Heart Program, the mortality rate among the men who walked less than one mile per day was nearly twice that among those who walked more than two miles per day (studies of women show equally potent results). In another equally impressive study, data collected on more than 41,000 men and women from 1990 to 2001 were analyzed to find the relationship between walking and mortality. It was reported that men and women who walked 30 minutes or more per day during the study period had fewer deaths than those who walked less than 30 minutes. Interestingly, even men and women who smoked or were overweight were protected from early death if they walked more than 30 minutes per day.

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Advantages of endurance exercises

Exercise is good at any age, but especially as we age because it can condition and strengthen our muscles including the heart muscle. Taking care of our body is the best way to age our body gracefully. Exercise has many benefits not just to strengthen us but it keeps our mind active too as we think about what we are doing and relate to others as we exercise. There are several types of exercises we can do which will help our bodies to age gracefully.

Endurance exercises are those that combine aerobic activity with cardiopulmonary activity and increased stamina. These include running, walking, stair climbing, jump roping, swimming or any activity that when doing it you use your large muscles like those in your thighs and buttocks and use them over a long period of time. Your lungs, heart and your circulatory system are able to function more efficiently when you build up your endurance levels doing these activities.

When you become efficient doing endurance exercises you will notice that you no longer will become short of breath or experience excessive fatigue when doing normal activities like going up and down stairs, walking around the store or moving from room to room in your home. Indeed, increased endurance keeps you healthier and improves stamina for daily activities. A strong heart and lungs allow you to perform activities more efficiently. For example, a person with a weak heart and lungs is likely to feel winded after walking up a small flight of steps, but a person with a strong cardiorespiratory system wouldn’t think twice about walking up a flight of stairs. As a system, the strong heart and lungs work together, allowing you to do things you want to do, such as play with the grandchildren longer, survive an uphill climb and have added energy for gardening.

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Risk Factors

You can control some of your risk factors for doing endurance exercises by understanding and paying attention to warning sighs. Some of the risk factors for endurance exercising are:
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • High triglyceride levels
  • Smoking, even second-hand smoke
  • Obesity
  • High levels of stress
  • Having a sedentary lifestyle
  • High blood sugar level
  • Poor diet
  • Poorly educated about heart health
You can control these factors listed above by making an appointment with your health care provider and discussing your intended exercise program and any of these health concerns you may have.
There are some risk factors regarding endurance exercise that you cannot modify. These factors are:
  • Men who are over 45 years of age and women who are over 55 years of age.
  • Caucasians have a greater risk for physical stress during endurance exercises
  • Until age 70, men have higher risks. After age 70 the risks are the same for men and women.
  • Having a family history of heart disease puts you at high risk
  • Having an enlarged left ventricle
  • Having had a previous heart attack
  • Having a medical history of heart valve or peripheral vascular problems
If you have any of these factors please do not start any exercise program without first consulting your health care provider as certain physical stresses like those experienced during exercise can be dangerous without medical guidance.

How to increase stamina & endurance?

Stamina and endurance are different from pure strength. Endurance allows you to exercise longer. Good stamina levels usually mean better circulation, energy levels and overall health. Some people are naturally better equipped to handle endurance exercise. To increase your stamina and endurance, you need to enlarge your lung capacity, build the muscles around your heart and strengthen the muscles used in endurance activities. The key is gradual increases in your daily physical activity. Ideally, you need no less than 150 minutes a week of vigorous exercise, according to the American Heart Association.

Step 1
Calculate your target exercise heart rate. According to the University of Arkansas, your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. For example, the maximum recommended heart rate for a 35-year-old is 185. Target between 50 percent and 80 percent of your max heart rate during exercise. Use a heart rate monitor, or count your beats per minute right after exercise. See Figure 1: General Guidelines for Exercising Heart Rate.

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Another way to determine intensity is to use the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale (RPE). The intensity levels range from 6 to 20. While exercising, rate your perception of your total feeling of exertion, combining all sensations and feelings of physical stress, then choose the number on the RPE that best describes your level of exertion while you are exercising. The number on the scale roughly correlates to heart rate by multiplying the RPE number by 10. For example, if you are briskly walking and rate your exertion as a 13, your heart rate would probably be somewhere close to 130 beats per minute. See Figure 2: Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale.

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Step 2
Play a sport or engage in an exercise activity that you enjoy. For example, it could be a team sport such as soccer, a head-to-head sport like tennis or a solo pursuit such as swimming. Stick to light-exertion activities if you're not accustomed to exercise. Build up to more strenuous exercises as your endurance improves.

Step 3
Exercise for at least 30 minutes each day. If you're a beginner, break the 30 minutes into 10-minute chunks. Ensure each session contains sustained exercise that increases your heart and breathing rate. Build exercise into your daily routine so that it becomes a habit.

Step 4
Mix your routine up. For example, alternate your three chosen activities every two days. In the days in between, try jogging, swimming or gym sessions. A broader range of exercise works more of your body's muscles. Don't feel you have to do high-intensity activities every day; a brisk walk is fine every few days.

Step 5
Test your heart rate after a month of daily exercise. Measure just after or during a session. Note any improvements.

Step 6
Increase the intensity and duration of your sessions if your heart rate has improved. This is a sign that your stamina and endurance are increasing. For example, try swapping a low-intensity workout for a high-intensity one. This will keep your stamina and endurance building over time.

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Tips and Warnings
  • Instead of short exercises every day, you might prefer a high-exertion activity over a longer period, spread three times over the week. Include high-intensity exercises in your schedule. These help push your heart and lung capacity further.
  • Stretch before exercise, and cool down afterward with gentle walking or stretching to avoid muscle strains.


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