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Aging Vs. Bed Rest

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What is worse for your body, 3 weeks of bed rest or 30 years of aging? Its an old debate but always an interesting one; aging vs exercise.

Back in 1966, researchers delved into this topic by focusing on only 5 subjects, men 20 years of age. The study, known as the Dallas Bedrest and Training Study, compared the effects of 3 weeks of staying in bed, and 8 weeks of intense physical exercise. As you might have easily concluded, based on what has become common knowledge about the importance of exercise for the human body, the bed rest part of the study took a negative toll on the subjects’ physical condition.

Now add 30 years following this study. That is what a group of researchers did in 1996, performing a follow up involving all five of the now middle-aged subjects. After conducting the same bed rest and intense physical exercise routines, they then compared the results to the 1966 study. What they found was that 3 weeks of bed rest, even at the young age of 20, did more damage to physical conditioning, than 30 years of aging. Although the men had all gained body fat over time and their oxygen intake ability declined with age, their maximum cardiovascular function had not changed significantly when performing the exercise.

A critical look at this study could point to the small number of participants or the activities of each man during those 30 years. The conclusions are perhaps not worth getting over-excited about. Yet still, the latest study represents a very interesting and lengthy period of comparison. It was also one of the first to point to the negative effects of the simple lack of physical activity on the human body. It tells us that being young and inactive is bad for your health, it does more damage than 30 years of aging.

Source: Plos Blogs

Reference: McGuire DK, Levine BD, Williamson JW, Snell PG, Blomqvist CG, Saltin B, & Mitchell JH (2001). A 30-year follow-up of the Dallas Bedrest and Training Study: I. Effect of age on the cardiovascular response to exercise. Circulation, 104 (12), 1350-7 PMID: 11560849

Photo: Basil Gloo / Flickr

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