Exercise and Longevity, Part I

For years, I lived with a guilty conscience due to my lack of exercise. After all, I am a prostate cancer expert. The main goal for my patients is longevity.  As such, I know all the scientific studies prove a powerful connection between fitness and longevity.  This connection is far much more significant than most people realize:  The risk of a sedentary lifestyle is about the same as a pack-a-day smoking habit.  

Being an ex-smoker and having crawled out of that ditch and kicking the habit makes me a passionate advocate for exercise. The danger of forgoing exercise is very real to me. 

Knowledge is power but only if you take action. For three years I bought gym memberships, purchased a spectacular exercise machine, and treated myself to a beautiful set of matched weights.  I even used my equipment a few times and made a couple of visits to the gym, but there was no consistency.  What was wrong?  Most of you already know the answer.  Exercise causes pain. I am a busy person. I already have enough pain in my day-to-day life.  The last thing I want in my limited amount of free time is to experience more pain.

But my scientifically oriented brain can’t ignore those pesky studies showing that a sedentary life style is as dangerous as smoking.  After all, longevity is really my life’s work. People come from all over the country to visit me for advice on how to reduce their risk of dying from prostate cancer.

When taken in its entirety, poor fitness is probably even more dangerous than prostate cancer itself.

Hiring a trainer and relinquishing control of the whole process to an authority and held me accountable finally got me “over the hump”. The daily relative importance of exercise was radically bumped up on my list of life priorities by a scheduling a time to meet with another person.

  It’s not in my nature to thoughtlessly cancel training sessions when it affects someone else’s livelihood and schedule. While I hate training, I find that I am pretty good at following through on the appointments I make.  Once I show up at the gym, I do what I’m told.  Also, I find the presence of someone during exercise is a welcome distraction from the discomfort of the exercise process. Overall, the sessions are much less miserable. 

Once you start exercising, you soon notice a subjective sense of well-being, more energy, smaller waistline, more dietary freedom and better balance. Also, my tennis game improved.  These successes all remind me that my expensive exercise habit is really worth the cost.

There is a lot more to be said in favor of fitness.  The intimate connection between balance and strength increases in importance as we get older. Unsteadiness and falls account for all kinds of problems in the elderly. Some of my patients who have hired trainers come back with glowing reports about the improvements in their golf game.  The message is - attaining fitness is achievable. All you need is enough conviction to break out your checkbook and hire some to provide expert supervision.

Acquiring the right kind of fitness trainer—a discerning one—is also important. Everybody’s body is different and the optimal exercise program for each individual will vary. Inexperienced or overzealous trainers can cause injury, which is obviously counterproductive. However, nothing valuable in life comes without some risk. 

Whether or not an elderly man is receiving treatment, hormonal or otherwise, regular strength training is imperative. After age 60, men lose about 1% of their muscle every year. Without counter measures to build muscle decrepitude becomes inevitable.  Hormonal treatment further accelerates the loss of muscle.

Weakness and frailty are the essence of what it means to be “old.” No one should ever consider themselves “too old” to jump on the fitness bandwagon. Muscles will grow and become stronger at any age.  They just need to be challenged through exercise

In Part II of this series on “Fitness and Longevity” will outline a training program that focuses primarily on augmenting muscle mass through strength training. As exercise programs go, resistance training requires much less time than other approaches.   

Continue Reading