As you approach middle age and beyond, you may start noticing that things don't always work the way they used to. Maybe you get tired more easily or you find it's harder to stand up after you've been sitting on the floor for a while. You may even start to feel the occasional ache or pain in well-used joints. Just because you're aging chronologically doesn't mean you need to put up with aging biologically.
Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine indicates that regular, moderate- to vigorous-cardiovascular exercise could delay biological aging by roughly 12 years. That means when you hit 50, you'll still feel like you're in your 30s, and that's something worth exercising for.
The Research and ResultsWhen an individual ages, a natural decline in aerobic capacity begins to take place at the rate of approximately five ml/[kg*min] per decade. This basically means that if you were in great cardiovascular shape in your 20s, with an aerobic capacity of 50 ml/[kg*min], by your 60s your aerobic capacity would have dipped to 30 ml/[kg*min]. Likewise, if you were in average shape in your 20s with an aerobic capacity of 40 ml/[kg*min], by your 60s your aerobic capacity would have dipped to 20 ml/[kg*min].
What do all these numbers mean? Well, when your aerobic capacity dips to about 18 in men and 15 in women, regular daily activity becomes almost too hard to perform without experiencing extreme fatigue.
According to researchers, relatively high-intensity aerobic exercise performed over a relatively long period of time can boost aerobic power by 25 percent, the equivalent of 10 to 12 biological years. Even if you've allowed yourself to live a fairly sedentary life, starting an aerobic exercise program can reverse some of the biological aging that has already taken place.
The TakeawayIn order to improve your aerobic capacity, you have to challenge your heart and lungs. Just like you have to lift heavier weights in order to become stronger, you have to push yourself during your cardio session in order to increase your lung capacity. If the thought of pushing yourself hard during your cardio routine is enough to make you ditch it altogether, you can take a sigh of relief—pushing yourself hard throughout your workout is unnecessary.
What you need to focus on are activities that push you hard, then allow you to enjoy a period of rest. Interval training and a variety of group fitness classes provide this hard-easy-hard sequence that can enhance aerobic capacity.
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Laura Williams writes about exercise and fitness for Exercise.com through her regular column "Exercise Science". She is currently completing her master's in Exercise Science.