Exercise For The Post 50 Can Improve Your Attitudes About Aging

CORRECTS NAME TO STREEP -- Meryl Streep poses with her award for best actress for "The Iron Lady" during the 84th Academy Awa
CORRECTS NAME TO STREEP -- Meryl Streep poses with her award for best actress for "The Iron Lady" during the 84th Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Joel Ryan)

You've heard all the claims about the value of exercise. Yet, do you still find it difficult to motivate yourself to hop on that treadmill, lift those weights or stretch those taut quadriceps? Perhaps this latest research, from an ongoing study called "Berlin Fit," will give you that added boost to your exercise motivation. Even if you're tied to your treadmill, you'll find renewed reasons to keep that workout routine an important part of your life.

As reported by University of Konstanz psychologist Verena Klusmann in the March 2012 issue of the Psychology of Sport and Exercise,, regular physical activity can make you both stronger in body and mind. Using a rigorous experimental design, Klusmann compared three groups of sedentary older adult women before and after a 12-week period to pinpoint the effects of physical exercise on attitudes toward getting older. The women, ranging from 70 to 93 years old were randomly divided into three groups with about 80 participants in each group. The physical exercise group completed three 90-minute sessions per week, during which they rode a stationary bike, lifted weights, and improved their balance. They were compared to a cognitive exercise group who received classroom training in the use of computers. The third group went about their usual everyday routines which did not include either type of specific activity.

All women in the study completed a brief six-item scale that measured their attitude toward getting older. The items tapped such sentiments as whether, as they aged, they felt worse about themselves and their lives, had to give up things they enjoyed, and felt less useful. On the average, at the start of the study, participants scored at about midway on rating scale, and all three groups received about the same beginning scores. Klusmann also measured their "approach" motivation regarding physical exercise, in which they answered questions about whether they found it fun and enjoyable.

By the end of the six-month period, the women in the physical exercise group showed a significant improvement in their positive attitude toward getting older compared to the women in the two control conditions. Surprisingly, though, the women in the computer training group actually became slightly more negative toward getting older over the course of the study. This shows that the results were specific to exercise, not just group activity. If anything, it's possible that the women in the computer class felt worse about aging because they became more aware of some of their cognitive limitations, especially if they found the material to be difficult to learn.

Over the course of the study, the women in the physical exercise group became stronger in their approach motivation to physical activity. The more they exercised, the more they found the exercise to be rewarding for its own sake. The exercise became less of a chore and more of a pleasure as the weeks went on. In fact, that improvement in their attitude toward exercise itself seemed to play a major role in transforming their views about aging in general.

The motto to "use it or lose it" is generally one that helps people age better. The more you use your body and your mind, the better you will preserve your abilities. However, as shown in this study, there is something special about using your body that gives physical activity particularly unique advantages over mental activity. Once you get yourself moving, the activity will become rewarding in its own right. It will seem less like a chore and more like a pleasure, and you'll have conquered half the battle.

It's also important to consider the fact that the women in this study exercised as a group over the 12-week period. There's no denying the fact that the social aspects of exercise can become an incentive for many people, especially those who need the support of their gym buddies. By working out in a group, these women undoubtedly were able to benefit from their shared experiences, particularly in the early stages before they gained confidence in their physical abilities. It's unlikely that the same bonding occurred among the women taking the computer class. In any case, a combination of social benefits plus some endorphin (the "feel-good" hormone stimulated by exercise) would have made for a powerful combination for the women in the physical exercise training condition.

The Kunsmann study also points to the value of a variety of types of physical exercise. The women in the study worked on improving their aerobic fitness, but they also spent time in weight training and perfecting their balance. This is the trifecta of a good exercise program. It's not enough to run, hop up and down off a step, or work the treadmill or elliptical machine. You have include resistance training in your workouts not only to strengthen your muscles, but to strengthen your bones. Improving your balance also helps you carry out your daily activities and, importantly, avoid falls.

Although this study was conducted on an all-female sample, it's a safe bet that men and women alike can benefit from these ingredients of a healthy workout regime. What's even better, the more active you are, the more you'll enjoy your new levels of activity, health, and -- eventually -- your outlook on life.

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