Staying Young & Healthy

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Because studies are generally done on groups of people who attend worship services, it is not clear whether the healing power of religion is based on greater hope which in turn boosts immunity ; a calm that decreases muscle tension and slows the heart rate; or the social support systems that can go hand-in-hand with involvement in a religious group.

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If choosing a pet seems simpler than searching for a spouse, take heart. Scientific studies have revealed that pet companionship, like human fellowship, has health benefits: lower heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and decreased incidence of depression and anxiety. It's simple, he adds: "If you're an optimistic person, you'll live a healthier and longer life. Who said aging couldn't be fun?

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How to Watch the Taurid Meteor Shower. You need only to watch kids playing in a park to remember how natural exercise used to feel. For the young, running, jumping, dancing, and kicking are fun--pure play.

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My son Samuel has energy to burn. He hits the swing set every day after school not because he wants the workout, but because it feels good.

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Somewhere in the teen years, though, exercise levels drop off precipitously, probably as adolescents spend more time on schoolwork and worrying about the opposite sex. For most Americans, this is the beginning of the end--the loss of exercise as play and a new perception that it's just another job.

Seventy percent or more of older Americans fail to get the exercise they need.

But exercise is more important than ever now. Overall fitness is the primary determinant of independence in later years, while cardiovascular conditioning is a critical factor in preventing the heart attack that ends most people's lives. The truly good news is that it's never too late to get fit. One of the uncontested facts in aging research is that people who exercise not only live longer, they live better.

From this large, diverse group a unifying fact emerged: The more the women exercised, the longer they lived. But the improvements were by no means most dramatic for marathon runners or gym fanatics. Instead, the biggest increase in lifespan was found when women went from less than an hour per week of exercise to an average of 1 to 2 hours of weekly workout time--a seemingly slim difference with big implications.

Moderately paced walking was the women's favorite form of exercise.

A year study of 2, men in midlife found that physical fitness was a strong predictor of mortality. Even small improvements in exercise habits significantly lowered the risk of death for these people in their peak productivity years. One of the most exciting findings of the MacArthur Foundation Study of Successful Aging was that the senior participants who were physically active had the best preserved mental function 10 years later.

This is important evidence that a sound body and mind go hand in hand for life.

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Schneider, MD, Permission granted by Rodale Inc. It conditions the heart muscle itself, lowers bad LDL cholesterol while boosting good HDL cholesterol, reduces high blood pressure, and keeps triglyceride levels in check. Regular workouts are one of the best ways to prevent heart attack and stroke, statistically the most likely causes of death for everyone. A study found that women who regularly engaged in brisk walking reduced their risk of heart disease.

The time put in by a 5-hour group paid off significantly, but even the walkers at the low end of the scale upped their odds against our top killer by nearly a third. So I'm not talking about a trivial improvement in your longevity quotient here. Just getting off the couch will deliver a double-digit reduction in your risk of cardiovascular disease, as much as 30 percent. People at extra risk for heart disease have even more reason to exercise, since a regular workout routine is one of your best defenses against the development and progression of this disease.

The Secret to Staying Young and Healthy

Red flags for increased heart-disease risk include smoking, being significantly overweight or obese, and having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a family history of heart attacks, or diabetes. Stop Stroke The first cousin to a heart attack the closing of one of the coronary arteries that feeds the heart is a stroke, which is the closing of one of the arteries that supply blood to the brain.

Stroke is the nation's number-three cause of death in older people. Strokes aren't always fatal, but they can often result in permanent impairment of physical and mental functioning, making them a leading cause of disability among the elderly. A study of 20, male physicians found that those who managed to get one or more vigorous weekly workouts into their busy schedules had a significantly diminished risk of stroke.

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The greatest stroke risk reduction percent--was found in the group that exercised vigorously just once a week. You don't need a lot of workout time to ward off this disease.

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The Nurses' Health Study tested the stroke-stopping power of exercise on 72, female nurses and found once again that the greatest risk reduction occurred with the first increment of exercise--between those who exercised less than 1 hour a week and those who exercised 1 to 1. The risk of stroke continued to decline with additional exercise. With age and added pounds, our ability to convert blood sugar into energy can decline, leading to a condition known as insulin resistance.

Face this change passively, and your risk of type 2 diabetes increases dramatically. Get active, and you can make great strides toward preventing diabetes or managing the condition if you have it.