Healthy Aging: Know the Facts

By John Sandgren, MD
John Sandgren is a recent Evolve grad and a member of the Vital Aging Network’s Wellness 50+ Design Team. We are pleased to have his contribution to our knowledge base about how to age well.

Dec 212014

Woman stretchingIt’s well-documented that people who were sedentary during their young or middle years of life are much more likely to remain sedentary as they age. Fitting exercise into a daily routine for the first time represents major change; conscious repetition is the key to establishing a new habit like this.

Chapters 4 and 5 of the HHS Guidelines offer some examples of how you might incorporate exercise into your daily schedule.[1] Also, my new series coming in a couple weeks will provide practical tips for adding exercise to a busy schedule.

Things to consider as you start each day:

  • When you choose to exercise outdoors, pick safe times of the day when lighting is good, ground conditions are acceptable, and temperatures are not extreme. For running or jumping, look for shock-absorbing surfaces like natural turf and playgrounds.
  • If you do exercise in hot temperatures, pay attention to rest, shade, and drinking enough fluids.
  • Find a safe place to exercise – places that are well-lighted and maintained (no litter, no broken windows, no holes in the ground), places where other people are present. Separate yourself from motor vehicles.
  • For those with serious medical conditions or disabilities, the safest place to exercise may be a supervised setting.
  • Allow some minutes for warm-up and cool-down. Most of us aren’t fit enough to count these minutes as aerobic exercise, so these minutes must be in addition to our aerobic minutes. However, a cool-down with stretches can meet the flexibility portion of your workout requirement (Part 6).

Remember, you are doing something important here, so important that The American Heart Association made this sweeping statement in its most recent exercise recommendation for older adults: “Given the breadth and strength of the evidence, physical activity should be one of the highest priorities for preventing and treating disease and disablement in older adults.”[2] (2) (Boldface emphasis is mine.)

A large study of 252,925 men and women, aged 50-71, who lived in 6 states across America in 1995, showed many of the benefits of exercise we’ve reviewed in this series. But one particularly striking benefit was, the people who watched more than 2 hours of television or video per day were observed to have a 50 percent reduction in mortality over 5 years if they self-reported at least 3 hours of moderate-intensity exercise per week plus at least 1 additional hour of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.[3] Now, self-reporting on questionnaires is a somewhat unreliable way of collecting data, because people tend to over-report how much they exercise. But the point remains, exercise clearly reduced mortality in TV and video watchers, so I suspect it will do the same for those of us who sit 2 or more hours a day at a computer.

Which begs the question . . . have you taken your exercise pill today?


Read other entries in this series. Download a pdf of the entire Exercise as a Pill series.

John SandgrenJohn Sandgren is a recent Evolve grad and a member of the Vital Aging Network’s Wellness 50+ Design Team. We are pleased to have his contribution to our knowledge base about how to age well.



1 Department of Health and Human Services, 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2008.

[2] Nelson M, Rejeski W, Blair S, et al. Physical Activity and Public Health in Older Adults, Recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation 2007: 116:1094.

[3] Leitzmann M, Park Y, Blair A, et al. Physical Activity Recommendations and Decreased Risk of Mortality. Arch Intern Med 2007; 167:2453.