Age, Health and Well-Being

It is widely supposed that individuals who maintain an active lifestyle live longer and live better. Most studies to date have focused upon the consequences of physical inactivity on health and well being, whereas few studies have specifically targeted those who might be considered the most active. In theory, participants who engage in organized physical training might display favorable aging outcomes as compared to those displayed by the population at large.

The Counsilman Center for the Science of Swimming, led by Dr. Joel Stager, examined this potential phenomenon through an examination of potential biomarkers of aging, physical function, health, quality of life, and physical activity patterns within the Master Swimmers population. The primary purpose of this research was to determine whether or not individuals who can be described as highly active have a higher quality of life and a more favorable functional and health status. Physiological data (biomarkers of aging) were collected at the 2004 United States Masters Swimming Championships where the subjects also completed a questionnaire describing their swimming history, physical activity, health and quality of life.

Comparisons between the general population and members of a highly fit competitive population suggest that despite similarities in height and weight, the active population exhibits numerous traits consistent with optimal aging outcomes such as retention of pulmonary function, muscle mass and strength, and a more favorable blood lipid and blood pressure profile. Focusing on the relationship between physical activity patterns, health, and skeletal muscle mass, the maintenance of muscle mass and strength may be a key determinant in an individual’s quality of life as they age. This maintenance may allow for a higher level of physical function leading to potential independence across their lifespan. Data which was presented at the 2005 American College of Sports Medicine Conference (Nashville, Tennessee) and a discussion of our results may be viewed by following this link: Biological Markers of Aging in Highly Active Adults.

TheUSMS population averaged 4.7 (+/- 4.4) hours moderate and 7.1 (+/- 5.5) hours of vigorous activity per week. Furthermore, both males and females had significantly higher scores across all dimensions of quality of life when compared to the general population. Our results reveal that the USMS population is participating above and beyond these ACSM and CDC recommendations for physical activity and that this may be an important factor in the greater overall health status and quality of life that these individuals enjoy. Data which was presented at the 2005 American College of Sports Medicine Conference (Nashville, Tennessee) and a discussion of our results may be viewed by following this link: Quality of Life, Health and Well Being of Highly Active Individuals.

Future plans include the monitoring of swim training and other daily physical activity via an accelerometer. Subjects will wear an accelerometer throughout their daily activity as well as while participating in swimming activities. This will allow for an examination of their daily activity patterns to determine if it is the swim training and/or general activity patterns that lead to a more favorable profile. In other words, does structured exercise lead to an increase in physical activity outside of training sessions when compared to the general population and what impact may this have on health and well-being?