There is considerable evidence that regular physical activity can enhance measures of physical fitness in adults, especially aerobic and strength levels. In particular physical activity has been shown to enhance measures of physical functioning in physically ill elderly individuals, as well as in physically healthy older individuals.
Because physical activity is a predictor of overall health, it’s reasonable to ask whether physical activity can prevent or treat impairments in physical function in the aging population. Older adults who participate in moderate to vigorous physical activity on a regular basis may be less likely to develop the common age related conditions, such as arthritis, osteoarthritis, and kidney disease. Physical activity may also help delay the onset of conditions that can impact quality of life, such as depression and dementia.
Physical activity may also be beneficial for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. This disease affects older individuals more commonly, but there are also other conditions and diseases that can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease, and so physical activity could prevent or slow the development of these conditions.
As is the case with Alzheimer’s disease, there is some evidence that physical activity can affect cognitive performance and memory. It is unclear, however, whether this is the only health benefit that physical activity can provide. One study suggested that physical activity may reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke by as much as 25% among people at risk for these conditions. Additionally, there is evidence that physical activity can reduce the risk of type II diabetes, because physical activity has been shown to lower blood glucose levels.
Studies of the effects of physical activity on children and adolescents are still inconclusive. However, there are some encouraging results, such as an increased attention span and better motor skills among children who participate in physical activity. Studies also indicate that physical activity can help improve the mental and academic performance of adolescents, although the effects of physical activity on these variables may be different from one child to another.
Although studies of the effects of physical activity on the aging population are generally encouraging, the effects of physical activity on the young and middle-aged population remain inconclusive. Studies have suggested that physical activity can help prevent osteoporosis and bone loss, although they have not found an association between physical activity and hip fractures. There is also no evidence of an association between physical activity and heart attack or stroke.
The most promising studies of the effects of physical activity on the aging population focus on reducing stress and depression, but these results may be confounded by many factors. As with studies of the aging process, those with a history of depression are particularly vulnerable to the positive effects of physical activity. Another consideration is that, as depression worsens, physical activity becomes less effective in treating or preventing depression.
Overall, research indicates that physical activity can be beneficial for the health of both the aging and the young and middle-aged population. However, for the most part, there is no strong evidence that physical activity helps prevent the development of age-related conditions and disease, nor is there clear evidence that it prevents the development of more serious conditions.
As we become older, we become less active, but good health and longevity depend on regular exercise and a proper diet. However, because of the limited scientific evidence about the effects of physical activity on the health of the elderly, prevention of age-related diseases is not the primary goal. Research studies suggest that regular exercise may have a beneficial effect on a number of common age-related illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, arthritis, and depression. However, the effects of physical activity on the prevention of some common illnesses such as asthma and high cholesterol are uncertain.
Because studies have focused primarily on the effects of physical activity on the elderly, studies on children and adolescents are usually inconclusive. Children’s activities such as swimming, dancing, playing sports, and other forms of physical activity may help to prevent childhood obesity and childhood asthma. However, children who do not engage in physical activity are more likely to become overweight or obese than children who engage in physical activity. Studies also suggest that physical activity can help prevent the onset of heart disease and stroke in middle-aged adults. Physical activity may also help prevent the development of some cancers, such as prostate and colorectal.
While there is some evidence that physical activity may help prevent the development of many chronic diseases, there is no evidence to indicate that it does much to prevent the development of some common childhood or adulthood-onset cancers, such as breast, colon, and bladder cancer. In general, there is some evidence that physical activity can have positive effects on cognitive function and memory in younger children and in some cases, an active child may be able to achieve better cognitive function. However, there is no evidence that regular physical activity can prevent the development of depression or other mood disorders in children.