There is good news for men who want to live longer and healthier. It only takes a few basic lifestyle changes to lower the chances of getting many age-related diseases and increase your chances of staying active and independent. One of the most powerful of these is getting, and staying, physically active. Getting regular exercise can help you:
- Have a healthier heart. Regular physical activity raises healthy HDL cholesterol levels and reduces unhealthy LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. It also lowers blood pressure, burns body fat, and lowers blood sugar levels — all of which benefit heart health. The power of exercise to help the heart cannot be understated. Following a heart attack, an exercise-based rehabilitation program can reduce the likelihood of dying from heart disease by one-third.
- Keep your brain sharp. Exercise helps keep blood vessels throughout the body healthy and helps reduce the risk of stroke. Several studies suggest that exercise might also help ward off Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
- Control blood sugar levels. Regular physical activity not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, but also boosts sensitivity to insulin and thereby modestly reduces blood sugar levels. This can help people with diabetes better control their disease — and help those at risk for diabetes sidestep this condition. One study found that only two-and-a-half hours of brisk walking a week cut the risk of diabetes by 30%.
- Possibly lower cancer risk. Some evidence suggests that regular exercise may reduce the risk of certain cancers. One review found consistent evidence that regular physical activity reduced risk for colon cancer by about 24% in men. Other research suggests that regular exercise may reduce risk of lung cancer by about 20%. There is no proof that exercise lowers the risk of developing prostate cancer — but once a man is diagnosed, physical activity can reduce the chances that it will spread.
- Stay strong and mobile. It might surprise you to learn that men also can develop thinning of the bones with age. Regular weight-bearing exercise can help slow this bone loss. Putting weight on your bones — whether by walking, playing football, or lifting weights — stimulates the growth of new bone. Exercise also helps keep joint cartilage healthy. Strong muscles support joints and lighten the load upon them. Exercise may limit and even reverse knee problems by helping to control weight.
For more on how to reduce your health risks from heart disease to dementia, buy A Guide to Men's Health Fifty and Forward by Harvard Medical School.