As athletes age, aerobic exercise is important

A notable conclusion in the recent study of retired NFL players dealt with cardiovascular fitness. The study was based on telephone interviews with 1,063 former players.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of obesity based on a ratio of height and weight. Despite a much higher BMI, NFL players had fewer heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. The information gathered provides an important message for the general population, as well as retired athletes.

BMI is probably not a good measure of obesity when body weight consists of a high percentage of muscle.

“In this situation, a percentage body fat calculation based on the use of a skin-fold caliper is more accurate,” said Mary Beth Green, a clinical dietitian at Backus Hospital.

Many younger athletes lift large weights to gain muscle bulk. This results in a sudden increase in blood pressure and diminished cardiac efficiency.

As athletes become older, aerobic exercise should be emphasized. Aerobic fitness is best described as the human body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently. Resistance training, in the form of light weight with high repetitions or stretch bands, will improve muscle tone.

“I encourage patients to begin a regimen of walking 30 minutes a day for at least five days per week. They should gradually increase to other forms of aerobic activity like biking or rowing,” said Dr. James Healy, a Norwich cardiologist. Healy reports that larger-strength athletes who become inactive are at high risk for heart attack.

Dr. Healy, like many physicians, believes that a medically-designed exercise program is as important as any medicine in the prevention of cardiovascular events. The fact that this carries over to large, former athletes is especially encouraging.

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