Health: Keeping fit later in life

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JOGGER Denis Rutovitz is living proof that exercise should not stop at the age of 60.

Little more than a year ago the Newhaven resident answered his daughter’s challenge by entering the Glasgow Marathon at the age of 83.

He had not actively run for years, but that didn’t prevent him from doing the necessary training to complete the 10K course.

He surprised himself, admitting: “Starting from just a few hundred yards in the course of a week or two I could work up to doing a five or 10K run.

“I think that’s actually quite encouraging at my age that even if you’ve not done much, if you just do it little by little and work up to it you can achieve it.

“You certainly feel fitter after a while. The first time you run a little bit, you feel smashed and then each time you can go a little further.”

Not that Mr Rutovitz is a slouch on any ordinary day.

Now 84, the Edinburgh Direct Aid founder can easily cover up to 5K walking his pet Border Collie Cross around the Capital each day and climbs Arthur’s Seat as many as three times a week.

As far as he is concerned, age should not be used as an excuse when it comes to getting out and staying active.

Mr Rutovitz said: “I think if I don’t exercise I really begin to feel my age, should I say, and if I do exercise I feel fine.”

That staunch belief in the benefits of exercise for older people has been backed up by new research from the University of Edinburgh released this week.

A study carried out by a team of psychologists and neuro-imaging experts led by Dr Alan Gow found that people aged over 70 who took regular exercise showed less brain shrinkage over a three-year period than those who did little.

More than 700 people were surveyed at the age of 73 as part of the research. MRI scans showed those who were more physically active had fewer “damaged” areas – visible as 
abnormal areas on scanning – in their brain’s white matter than those who did little exercise.

Those who took regular exercise also had more grey matter – the parts of the brain with nerve cell bodies.

Duddingston resident Jim Cumming knows that the hardest thing is not the exercise itself, but starting out in the first place. The 69-year-old found himself facing the daunting prospect of the unknown four years ago when he officially retired from his work in a legal office.

It took a persuasive shove from daughter Kirsty to take the leap of faith and enlist in walking classes 
run as part of Edinburgh Leisure’s Ageing Well programme.

He said: “I was probably a bit shell-shocked. She was doing it for the right reasons. I just needed that push to get me motivated. To begin with I was only going out one evening or one day per week, but I’ve settled into a routine whereby I’m out on the walks Tuesday and Thursday and taking dancing classes each Friday.”

By his own admission, the activities are one of the highlights of his week and his “home away from home”. “Sometimes I feel shattered and sometimes I feel like I’ve done a good job and I pat myself on the back,” he said. “If you weren’t doing that sort of thing then I’m left with the thought of what would I be doing? This particular range of activities is very 
helpful. Kirsty is happy that I’ve found a place where I can go.”

The Ageing Well programme has been running for the past ten years and is funded by NHS Lothian.

About 450 people aged 50 and over participate in weekly physical activities varying from seated exercise, walking groups and swimming to dance sessions, indoor curling, cycling and a gardening programme.

Ageing Well manager Anita Jefferies said: “We’re trying to reach out and target older people who are less active. They’re not the people who are going down swimming every week at the gym or running, They are people who want to do something in their local community, but aren’t as physically active. It’s getting them back into being active.”

Each activity is either led or supported by an older volunteer. Ms Jefferies said: “People know it’s going to be somebody they’re not going to feel intimidated by. It’s somebody they feel comfortable with, perhaps someone they can identify with.”

She added: “I know one woman who said she no longer needs to walk with a stick any more. That’s a huge improvement for her and a 
confidence booster as well. We’ve got people who say they’ve actually reduced their number of visits to their GP because they were going X amount of times a month and now they feel more confident and they reduce the visits required.”

Anne Davidson, programmes co-ordinator for Jogscotland, added: “Exercising can help with so many of the issues that arise with ageing. Doing it regularly in a group can cut isolation and boost confidence, while improving your strength and balance can make you less vulnerable to falls.

“It’s so important to realise that exercise is not just the preserve of the young and you don’t have to be the fastest runner in the world to benefit.”

For Mr Rutovitz, a former computer scientist for the Medical Research Centre, the benefits of exercise were obvious even without science.

He said: “Edinburgh is just a wonderful place for walking or jogging. There are so many beautiful parks – every day you can go to a different place, like up Arthur’s Seat or round Corstorphine Hill or out on the beach to Cramond Island.

“If there was ever a place which should tempt you outside to walk or jog, run or hill walk, Edinburgh is the greatest place.”

MAKING HEADWAY IN OLD AGE

THE Edinburgh University study found regular physical exercise is better for the brain in old age than completing crosswords or Sudoku puzzles.

Results from a survey of 638 people from Scotland born in 1936 revealed there to be no benefit to brain health for older people from participating in social or mentally stimulating activities.

However, those who took part in regular exercise showed less brain shrinkage over a three-year period than those who did little exercise.

Fewer damaged areas also showed up on brain scans of participants who were more physically active.

Those involved were given the MRI scans at 73 years of age.

The research led by Dr Alan Gow was published in American medical

journal Neurology on Tuesday. Findings suggest exercise is an important pathway to maintaining a healthy brain both in terms of size and reducing damage.

Dr Gow said: “Our results suggest that to maintain brain health, physical activity may be more beneficial than choosing more sedentary activities.”

The study is part of a greater project funded by Age UK and the Medical Research Council.

Professor James Goodwin, head of research at Age UK, said: “This research is exciting as it provides vital clues as to what impacts the way our brain ages and how we could tackle mental decline.

“If we can establish definitively that exercise provides protection against mental decline, it could open the door to exercise programmes tailored to the needs of people as they age.”