GRF CoverGovernment Recreation & Fitness


March 2012
The Power of Fitness ...

For ages, people all over the Earth have searched for that elusive fountain of youth or that magic pill that will give them energy and vitality well into their retirement years.

It turns out that the fountain of youth, that magic pill, has always been right there inside us all.

While pharmaceutical companies compete to get the first great (and safe) weightloss drug onto the market, the fitness industry — sports scientists, fitness specialists and medical fitness researchers — are discovering some amazing things about the power of fitness. Yes, fitness.

A number of groundbreaking new fitness studies published in the last few months alone provide fascinating evidence on the benefits of aerobic exercise and strength training.

For example, results of a long-term prospective study funded by the National Institutes of Health show that men in their 40s who exercised and maintained their physical fitness level for a decade reduced their risk of all causes of death by 30 percent, compared with men their age who did not exercise. Surprisingly, results show that body mass index (BMI) status — even for those who were above what is considered a healthy range — had minimal negative impact on risk of death in those who maintained or increased their fitness levels. And for those who were previously inactive or did not exercise, making fitness a priority in their 40s yielded similarly positive outcomes in reducing all causes of death.

In addition, results from a recent study by the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh show that high levels of exercise prevent the loss of lean muscle mass and strength in aging adults. The study included a cross-section of 40 high-level recreational athletes from 40 to 81 years old who trained 4 to 5 times per week. The findings contradict the common observation that muscle mass and strength decline as a function of aging alone.

Past studies on this topic have revealed similar results, showing that older adults can benefit greatly from exercise and strength training at any age, building bone and lean muscle mass, and getting those who can barely walk, moving and active again.

Adults aren't the only ones who benefit from exercise and daily physical activity. Children who participate in physical activity also tend to benefit in the classroom, according to a new systematic review of 14 studies from the past few decades. The review, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, sought to discover a potential link between childhood physical activity and improved academic performance.

“According to the best-evidence synthesis, we found strong evidence of a significant positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance,” the authors wrote. “The findings of one high-quality intervention study and one high-quality observational study suggest that being more physically active is positively related to improved academic performance in children.”

As it turns out, not only does fitness improve our physical well-being, but it is good for our noggins, too.

We have all known for a long time that working out is good for us, and yet our nation continues to struggle to turn the corner on the obesity epidemic; recent studies show that we have leveled off in how overweight we've gotten as a nation — which is not the worst news — but not enough to say we are headed back in the right direction.

These new findings on the power of fitness, though, provide powerful ammo for military and community fitness, sports, health and wellness professionals who continue to fight the good fight for more needed fitness facilities, equipment and programs, and on an even broader scale, increased opportunities outside for sports, play, recreation and family activities.