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Ernestine Shepherd has a message everyone needs to hear-the best antiaging pill is exercise. This 75-year-old grandmother holds the 2012 Guinness World Record as the oldest female competitive body builder, a distinction that she earned on stage in 2010. She started exercising in her mid-50s with her sister when they both became dismayed at how their bodies looked in bathing suits. After her sister died suddenly of a brain aneurysm, Shepherd suffered from depression and panic attacks.
Through courage and determination, she reexamined her life and got back on track by taking up body building. Under the careful guidance of a personal trainer, she entered the competitive arena at the age of 71 and has not looked back. Her mantra is, "Determined-Dedicated-Disciplined To Be Fit." She says she never feels tired even though her daily routine is overwhelming and would challenge even the most physically fit among us. She gets up early every morning and runs 10 miles-more if she is preparing for a 5K or 10K race. After her morning run, she does what she considers to be her mission in life-teaching fitness to the older women at her church. She tells them that being out of shape as you get older "is an option and not a mandate." Personalized training sessions follow the group classes. Somewhere during her busy day, she manages to go to the gym for her own workout, lifting weights and doing other strength-training exercises. She reminds everyone who might try to use age as an excuse not to exercise that "age is nothing but a number."1,2
Shepherd has it right-aging is actually a reason not to stop exercising. Muscle wasting is a normal process of aging and may make physical activity more difficult. Other medical conditions like arthritis also present challenges. However, the less physically active a person is, the more muscles atrophy, leading to exercise intolerance. Exercise intolerance has been linked to increased morbidity and mortality in the elderly. Studies have investigated the effects of exercise on muscle mass and muscle wasting in healthy and sick older adults.3,4 Wroblewski et al. found that "chronic exercise is prophylactic against age-related functional decline, as exercise at any age stimulates protein synthesis and increased muscle mass and strength."3 Gielen et al. found that the degree to which muscle mass wasted away could be lessened in persons with heart failure who followed a regular exercise routine.4
It is our job to educate patients about health promotion and disease prevention. This is especially important in combating common ailments related to sedentary aging. In 2001, the CDC established the CDC Healthy Aging Research Network "to better understand the determinants of healthy aging in diverse populations and settings; to identify, develop, and evaluate programs and policies that promote healthy aging; and to translate and disseminate research into effective and sustainable public health programs and policies throughout the nation."5 One initiative for physical activity is Active Aging, in which communities develop and provide access to a diverse array of opportunities for structured and unstructured physical activities for different levels of fitness and functional ability that will increase endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance for adults 50 and older.
Ernestine Shepherd encourages the people she teaches to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors: a balanced diet, adequate rest, a positive attitude, setting goals, getting support from significant people in your life, and, of course, exercise. What is better than teaching by example? She is an excellent role model; tell your patients about her. I may just take a few tips from her myself.
Jamesetta Newland, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, FAANP, FNAP
1. The Official Website of Ernestine Shepherd. http://ernestineshepherd.net/. [Context Link]
2. Ernestine Shepherd oldest living bodybuilder sees mission to teach fitness. Huffpost Healthy Living. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/11/ernestine-shepherd-oldest_n_1587021.htm. [Context Link]
3. Wroblewski AP, Amati F, Smiley MA, Goodpaster B, Wright V Chronic exercise preserves lean muscle mass in masters athletes. Phys Sportsmed. 2011;39(3):172-178. [Context Link]
4. Gielen S, Sandri M, Korarez I Exercise training attenuates MuRF-1 expression in the skeletal muscle of patients with chronic heart failure independent of age: the randomized Leipzig exercise intervention in chronic heart failure and aging catabolism study. Circulation. 2012;125(22):2716-2727. [Context Link]
5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About the CDC's healthy aging research network. http://www.cdc.gov/aging/han/index.htm. [Context Link]
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