“I’m too old to train! It’s too late to start now.” Think again!
You risk being passed by them if you’re out walking on the trail in Trondheim’s public forest, Bymarka, on a Tuesday or Thursday morning. You’ll hear them breathing hard and see the beads of perspiration on their foreheads as they cheer each other up the hill.
When you catch up to them at the top, there they are, happily smiling at you.
The world’s largest research project on exercise for older citizens is taking place in Trondheim. Almost ten years ago, we invited all the 70 to 77-year-olds in the city to join the Generation 100 study, and over 1 500 responded yes. A lot of them had never worked out before joining.
Only after a few months did several of them discover the joy of exercising and feeling motivated to run for the first time in their lives.
Now most of the participants are over 80 years old. And still training!
The goal of Generation 100 has been to see if older people who exercise become healthier, more fit and live longer. Now the answers are starting to trickle in. And if you read on, you’ll realize that your running shoes shouldn’t be retired even if you are in retirement.
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It’s not a given that you have lots of years left once you pass age 70. Statistically, the probability of dying at that age is about 2 per cent each successive year. After five years, in other words, we can expect that 10 per cent of 70 to 77 year old Trondheimers will no longer be alive.
But this somewhat depressing background information brings us to good news. After five years of training, more than 95 per cent of the 1 500 participants in the Generation 100 study were still alive and kicking. That’s twice as many as the statistics show.
The participants who fared best were the ones who worked up the most sweat and breathed the hardest.
And not only that: when we asked the participants how they felt, we found that high-intensity workouts also lead to a better quality of life.
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More energy for everyday activities
The new findings from the Generation 100 study have recently been published. They can help us understand why high-intensity workouts have the greatest effect on the longevity and quality of life for older adults.
To start with, we can observe the effects in people’s fitness levels. For most people in their 70s, their conditioning drops by 10 per cent over five years. By contrast, the Generation 100 participants were in as good shape after five years as when they joined the study.
And once again, those who did the high-intensity workouts had the best fitness levels – even better than they had five years earlier.
Being in better shape gives you more stamina in your everyday life. Gardening, trips to the store and playing with active grandchildren feels easier. The quality of life increases, and you become happier.
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Lower risk of disease
Maintaining a good fitness level as we age also protects against cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes. Waist measurements, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels in the blood all influence the risk for these diseases as well.
The results from the study show that the group that did high-intensity training achieved the healthiest levels of these risk factors overall. In addition, their resting heart rate and body weight decreased more than in the other participants.
Four times four
Back in Bymarka, you think of the well-matured men and women who ploughed past you up the hill. Surely they must be completely exhausted by the top? But on your way back down, you no doubt run into the same gang once again. On their way up the same hill with the same hard breathing, beads of sweat – and high spirits.
Four times four is the recipe they follow:
- Fast walking pace uphill for four minutes so that you get properly out of breath and sweaty.
- Calm walk down again to catch your breath.
- Repeat three more times at the same pace.
- Finish with a smile on top.
Try it out yourself next time. You’re not too old. The Generation 100 gang has proven that.