GET PHYSICAL: Exercise is necessary for older people, study finds

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It’s time to get off the couch and get some exercise, especially if you’re older.

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That’s because humans have evolved to live longer, healthier lives through physical activity, even later in life, according to a recent study published in the American science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s a common misconception in Western societies that as we age, it’s okay to slow down, do less, and retire,” said Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel E. Lieberman, main author of the article. The Harvard Gazette.

“Our message is the opposite: as we age, it becomes even more important to stay physically active.”

The study outlines the evolutionary and biomedical evidence for human longevity that derives from exercise.

Researchers suggest that physical activity essentially helps the body focus on mechanisms that prolong its functioning and steers it away from bodily processes that maintain weakened or damaged functions.

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This translates to a reduction in cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and even certain cancers, according to the study.

The study compared humans to their ape cousins, who typically live 35 to 40 years in the wild and lead sedentary lifestyles.

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“We basically evolved from couch potatoes,” Lieberman said. He traveled to Tanzania to observe wild chimpanzees and was amazed at how much time they spend “sitting on their butts, digesting”.

Even though physical activity puts pressure on bones, muscles, and tissues, which can sometimes lead to injury, the body works to repair the damage by building it back stronger.

This in turn causes the release of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories and improves blood circulation. For less active people, these responses occur less frequently.

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The body’s repair processes can reduce the risk of diabetes, obesity, cancer, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease and depression, according to the study.

“The key point to remember is that because we evolved to be active throughout our lives, our bodies need physical activity to age well. In the past, daily physical activity was necessary to survive, but today, we have to choose to exercise, which is to do purposeful physical activity for health and fitness,” Lieberman said.

And it doesn’t take much effort to realize the benefits of being active.

“The key is to do something and try to make it enjoyable to keep doing it,” Lieberman said. “…Even small amounts of physical activity – just 10 or 20 minutes a day – significantly reduce your risk of mortality.”

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