There is an old adage that active people seek active lifestyles, and that Darwin's theory of natural selection applies to exercise. It has always been hard to truly tell if exercise is associated with improved health, or whether healthy people are naturally drawn to more active tasks. For those who are still not convinced about the benefits of exercise as part of a healthier lifestyle, it has been a tough argument to refute.
Back in the mid 1980's evidence started to mount that if people engaged in exercise over periods of time, they may reduce their chances of acquiring certain types of diseases, such as heart disease, and other cardiovascular disorders. Research also pointed out that regular exercise may reduce premature mortality, thus assisting persons in living longer through maintaining a healthy lifestyle. These results were independent of their gender, places where they lived, their body weight, and other types of medical conditions, such as blood pressure status, and family history of a particular disease.
The concept of exercise in the past ten years has moved into a new realm - that of looking at the the effects of exercise on special populations. Special populations groups are persons with diseases, and other metabolic conditions that are usually under the care of physicians or other health care personnel.
Exercise and Special Populations - Pregnancy
One of the first special population groups to be studied directly under exercise conditions were pregnant women. For many years previously, obstetricians felt that exercise may harm the developing baby and cause unnecessary problems during pregnancy and delivery. This was in the absence of any concrete scientific information.
Over the past 15 years there have been many research reports on the effects of exercise on pregnant women, from their response to different exercise programs, to their birth outcomes. The results have been impressive, in that most women seem to fair better physically when performing regular moderate exercise regimens than those who remain sedentary over the course of their pregnancies. Although there is still a lag between information presented in journals and articles, and what many physicians recommend, the consensus today is that an active lifestyle with this group may be better for both mom and baby.
Current reports highlight the need for pregnant women to perform low-impact aerobic exercise that will help with metabolism after the second trimester, and not injure joints that are being softened up in the third trimester for delivery. Walking 1-2 times per day after meals seems to help burn excess energy, and aerobic exercises such as the UBE (Upper Body Ergometer), and Aqua-JoggingTM in a pool with a special buoyancy vest are two very good ways to stay in shape without excess stress to joints. They can be performed using basic fitness guidelines of 20-30 minutes, 3-4 days per week, keeping the heart rate in the training zone. Your physician should be kept abreast of your fitness program, and any unusual situations should be discussed with him/her.
Exercise and Seniors
Another special population group receiving attention in the medical literature and lay person press is the senior age group (55 years and over). For most of this century we were told that gaining weight, losing strength, developing disease, and losing energy were simply a part of the natural aging process. With the growing number of studies looking at exercise and life span, body fat loss, increasing strength, and reducing the incidence of certain diseases, through regular exercise over the years, it is becoming clear that inactivity - not aging per se, is the culprit in most, if not all, types of chronic diseases.