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The Fitness Files

Viva la Resolution

Tuesday, January 4, 2005; Page HE02

For those who have been making -- and breaking -- resolutions for, oh, several decades, two new studies offer fresh incentive to stick to that vow to maintain a regular exercise regime in 2005:

Good for the body Researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, reporting in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, say starting a regular exercise program can help people 55 to 75 years old stave off metabolic syndrome, a cluster of factors -- including obesity, insulin resistance and hypertension -- that may foretell cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. The Hopkins study of 51 men and 53 women shows that benefits accrue quickly to those who've been glued to the sofa for years; the key marker for improvement is not weight loss, but midsection adiposity, or fatness.

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"When people exercise, they may expect to lose a lot of weight, and there's often this misconception that weight loss is required to attain health benefits," said lead researcher Kerry Stewart, professor of medicine and director of clinical exercise physiology and heart health programs at Hopkins. "While weight loss is certainly desirable, you can also get benefit just by changing your body composition."

Instead of focusing exclusively on the bathroom scale, Stewart suggested in a telephone interview, fitness-seekers should keep an eye on their waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio.

Good for the mind Meanwhile, a European study published by the American Academy of Neurology asserts that continuing to get the same amount of physical activity of at least medium-low intensity (like playing volleyball or walking at 3 miles per hour) into old age diminishes the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. Findings in the 10-year study of 295 men from Finland, Italy and the Netherlands did not reveal how exercise conferred its benefits. But researchers said the longitudinal nature of the study made it unlikely that "reduced physical activity was a consequence rather than a cause of cognitive decline."

-- Gregory Mott

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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