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Why Retiring So You Can Exercise More Is Not a Crazy Idea

New studies show that starting a fitness plan in your 60s and 70s has real health boosts

spinner image Mature woman working out in a gym, talking to a man who is also working out.  Another woman working out in the background.
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There's been much made recently of the importance of committing to exercise in your 40s to fend off everything from dementia to diabetes decades later. But new studies also suggest you can miss that middle-age fitness window altogether and still see important benefits if you start exercising in your 60s or even 70s — when retirement suddenly makes it a lot easier to do.

And according to one study, at least, just moving more in your 60s — by, say, getting on top of those household chores or taking up a hobby such as gardening — can make a significant difference in your health. That research, just published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that adults in their early 60s who increased light to vigorous activity and decreased sedentary time improved their chances of keeping their heart healthy. Looking at 1,600 British volunteers, and measuring both general physical activity and light physical activity such as gardening or vacuuming, the researchers found that both types improved blood vessel function, which lowered cardiovascular disease risk. 

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A second study, this one from the Wake Forest School of Medicine, looked at the effects of exercise on older adults who were also obese, a group that the researchers noted in the Journals of Gerontology is rarely studied in the diet and exercise field.

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In their work, study participants ages 65 to 79, who were sedentary but generally healthy before the study, completed supervised treadmill workouts four days per week, gradually increasing from 15- to 30-minute sessions and continuing for 20 weeks. Researchers focused on cardiorespiratory fitness, as measured by VO2, which reflects how well the body supplies oxygen to muscles over a workout period. In those who completed the treadmill task, VO2 peak increased by 8 percent. In those who hopped on the treadmill and also cut calories moderately — the equivalent of cutting out a slice of bread or a snack a day — VO2 peak increased by almost 14 percent. But the bigger takeaway was how participants found that increasing exercise levels led not only to less fatigue in their daily lives but also to lower levels of reported disability. This is critical to helping some of those in the upper reaches of that age group continue to live independently. 

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