By Mark William Lisky
According to information provided by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the leading five causes of death in the U.S. from birth to middle age in descending order are all-cause accidents, birth defects, cancer, homicide and heart disease. Aside from accidents which holds a very high constant at the number one spot until about age 45, the other causes have some crossover peaks and valleys.
At about the age of 10, death by birth defects fall rapidly and is replaced by cancer. During one short period between the ages of 25 to 35, suicide overtakes cancer at the number two spot for mortalities. Deaths from liver disease spike shortly above both homicide and suicide at age 50.
Apart from some of these fluctuations, there is a startling change between the ages of 45 and 55. Accidents, liver disease, homicide and suicide begin to disappear from the radar. These are replaced in descending order by cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory diseases and falls. Eventually, after age 65, heart disease beats out cancer as the number one killer of men and women.
There can be little doubt that immaturity, risk taking, being in the wrong place at the wrong time and the feeling of invincibility all play roles in causing deaths by accidents in early life. However, the major causes of death after the age of 55 are not accidental. They are the known, highly researched and publicized realities of aging. And unlike accidents, a large part of the increased or decreased potentiality of suffering from heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory diseases and even falls, lies in the hands of each individual.
Also, the future state of our health may not lie in our family history as much as once thought. New research is suggesting that only about 30 percent of potentially terminal disorders are genetically based. The other 70 percent are dependent upon variables based on lifestyle choices. That’s correct. Seventy percent are choices a person freely makes.
These choices begin with the lack of any real physical activity (couch potatoitis). Research suggest that up to half of the physical decline and diseases associated with aging may be due to lack of physical activity. This number may be a lowball, it could be up to three-quarters according to some medical experts. Other choices that promote physical decline include all types of smoking (including second-hand), eating too many calorie dense nutrient poor foods, obesity and stress.
It seems through genetic research, that a potential window of opportunity for change happens around 55. As mentioned, this is the point of transformation from dying-off young, to the beginning of the long process of dying-off old through the diseases of aging. This is the time, too, a person can tilt the odds in favor of not being a statistic at the NCHS by planning out the next decades.
That plan must begin by getting more physically active via exercise, begrudgingly or not. There is no getting around this fact. Smoking cessation or dieting alone, though very important, may not be enough to change the final outcome of years of unhealthy choices.
Citing Dr. Oz in a 2010 Time Magazine article, “for all the medical tests we have in our modern arsenal, the ability to exercise remains the single most powerful predicator of longevity. Humans are designed to be physically active throughout their lives.”
In countless research studies worldwide, the absolute common denominator in preventing, postponing or improving current health disorders or their recurrence due to aging is exercise. These diseases include heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, obesity, sarcopenia (loss of lean muscle mass), depression, lower back pain, stress disorders, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and fall anxiety/balance issues.
Quoting from an article written by Peggy Vaughn in which she interviewed Dr. Leslie Bernstein, professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Dr. Bernstein said. “Exercise can play as important a role in cancer prevention as the latest screening tool or chemoprevention drug.” New research shows that exercises that help increase lean muscle mass (strength training) have special benefits for diabetics, since lean muscle improves the ability of muscle cells to utilize insulin and manage blood sugar more efficiently.
It’s not only the physical factors that are affected by exercise. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, Ph.D., of the University of British Columbia and colleagues reported in a letter published in the April 23 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, “Exercise is a promising strategy for controlling cognitive decline. Indeed, both aerobic and resistance training have been shown to improve cognitive performance and functional plasticity in healthy seniors living in the community as well as those with mild cognitive impairment.”
Exercise affects many other physiologic functions. The March 2012 Harvard Health Letter reported studies which focused on Parkinson’s disease that strongly suggested exercise in the forties, decades before Parkinson’s typically occurs, may reduce the risk of falling victim to Parkinson’s by 30 percent. Also, in 2004, research found that the physical activity of skeletal muscle during exercise altered the range of some genes. These alterations produced dramatic molecular changes in the cells, which the researchers suggest, make us healthier.
In the face of the preponderance of evidence about the immense value of exercise, the decision to use it as a tool to increase well-being and promote healthy longevity falls upon an individual. Even understanding the facts, many people will think about adding exercise in their lives but not act, others will try it for a time and then stop.
If a person wants to exercise and truly reap the benefits, whether it’s in mid-life or later in life, it does take commitment, self-control, compliance and a bit of sweat. These habits are the foundation of successful exercise. All that is possible with exercise comes down to getting to a gym 2 times a week for 20 minutes, walking on a treadmill and lifting some weights. That’s it. And the catch is, anyone can do it and anyone can adapt new habits. Exercise is also the least invasive, least costly and most effective way of changing the disease statistic game of aging. It is more than just an activity to drop a few pounds. It is unquestionably vital to a robust, healthy and long life and as essential as your next breath.
Mark William Lisky is a personal fitness and nutrition advisor. He can be reached at 732-933-9070 or email: email@example.com.
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