Aging Women Slack On Fitness

According to a new study, many U.S. women fail to get regular exercise—and the numbers only get worse as women age. Researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, looked at nearly 72,000 women aged 55 to 79 and found that only 3 percent to 7 percent got regular, vigorous exercise throughout their lives. The good news is that 13 percent to 16 percent of the women were exercising more than they had before. However, few stuck to the activities, such as jogging and aerobics, as they aged. The steepest decline came after age 50 (American Journal of Epidemiology, 2002, vol. 156, no. 10).

The benefits of regular exercise are myriad and well established. It increases aerobic capacity; improves flexibility, balance, and strength; and decreases the risk of osteoporosis and other diseases. Being active also decreases depression, stress, and anxiety; increases self-esteem; and even prevents or postpones age-related declines in mental alertness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend that women exercise moderately (burning about 150 calories) at least three to five times a week for 30 minutes each day, although women older than 50 would be wise to consult with their health care practitioners before starting a new exercise program. Although longer stints of vigorous activity can provide greater benefits, what is most important is to exercise regularly—and keep it up as you get older.

—C.D.