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itness Programs for Special Populations
Special Populations and Exercise:
A New Era In Fitness

© Eric P. Durak MSc

The senior population has had a boost for performing fitness routines with a report from Tufts University in Boston showing increases in strength in persons over 80 years old. Strength changes were demonstrated in subjects over a training program, with increases totaling over 170%. Even after a period of detraining, subjects still tested higher in strength scores than before they entered the program.

These results clearly show the need for incorporating moderate exercise programming at any age. The beneficial effects are being seen in groups once thought to have no business being in the workout environment.

Two areas of most concern to seniors are both bone and muscle weakness - the former with the concept of osteoporosis, and the latter with a decline in muscle strength and endurance over time. Again, walking has been shown to have an impact on cardiovascular fitness, and the use of aerobic machines may provide an improvement in workload over time without the impact on joints. Thera-Bandsª or rubber tubing are helpful with a beginning resistance exercise training program, and signing up with an exercise class, or having an instructor consult individually is helpful in getting a program started. Common sense, moderation, and proper exercise progression provide the intensity stimulus in the first month or so of exercise training.

Populations at risk for disease
For pregnant women and seniors, the benefits of regular exercise have been highlighted both in research and health periodicals. The question still remains if these particular populations are any more susceptible to disease because of their status. So, if we as our original question - does exercise help enhance health levels, or do they naturally select exercise to start out with?

The study of medical populations may give us a clue as to how exercise may be beneficial at improving health, independent of other variables that may contribute to health in the first place (such as genetics, dietary factors, where you live, etc.).

Diabetes affects over 20 million Americans, with over 5,000 new cases of diabetes being diagnosed every week. For over 70 years exercise has been touted as being part of the trilogy of treatment for persons with diabetes (along with a proper diet, and regular insulin routine). However, exercise has received little practical impetus from the health community, mainly because no one was sure what type of exercise, or how much was needed to actually impact diabetes care. Inactivity is seen as one of the major risk factors for development of diabetes over time, as is increased the likelihood of developing glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance. These factors are the reasons why many older adults develop diabetes later in life.

With the publication of three relevant research studies in 1991 and 1992, the question of exercise and its benefits for diabetes has been answered to a greater degree.

Two years ago, researchers from The University of California looked at alumni records from former university students to see who had been exercising regularly since their graduation from college (as far back at 1927). University records keep tabs on all students as to job occupation, health status, medical visits, leisure time activity, etc. Data was collected for many years, and when it was analyzed, it was found at alumni who exercised frequently (3 or more times per week), had less incidence for developing adult onset diabetes. Their risk for developing diabetes was almost half that of persons who did not exercise at all. This finding was independent of their family history of diabetes, and other physical factors, such as body weight and blood pressure status.

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About The Author
Eric Durak received his Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan in 1986. His research experience is in the application of exercise for special population groups, such as diabetes, high risk pregnancy, cancer, and metabolic disorders. He has published scientific articles in journals such as: The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Diabetes Care, The......more
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