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Vigorous exercise does far more than fight aging

Published January 02. 2010 09:00AM

On Monday, I begin what you might see as a daunting task. I will begin teaching seventh graders how to do legitimate, academic research that for most will culminate in the writing of a small research paper that follows the Modern Language Association guidelines the same style required in virtually all upper-level high school classes and colleges.

What can make the process daunting is that a few weeks from now some students will produce papers that give little indication that they attended class.

These papers will not have transition between paragraphs, proper internal documentation, a true thesis sentence, and worst of all a purpose or point. Some will be nothing more than a listing of facts, sometimes inaccurate and written as one monster paragraph, reminiscent of a one-source report done for a fourth or fifth grade class.

So why do I give such an assignment and frustrate my students and myself?

Because some students rise to the challenge, push themselves as they have never pushed themselves before, and produce research papers that would make you think they were preparing to enter college rather than eighth grade. Better yet is this: the assignment can produce something that's far too infrequently found in people of any age these days.

True passion.

That's why I share my classes' next assignment with you. The reason I write this column and teach MLA style research to seventh graders is the same.

While I realize most readers will read this column with the same mild interest with which most seventh graders will have for their research papers, I hope that once in a while a column can trigger true passion.

In the same way a seventh grader can research a form of cancer and develop a desire to become a doctor, or write about the plight of the homeless and become a soup-line volunteer, sometimes a single column can serve as inspiration (or a slap in the face) to eat better, exercise longer, or give up an unhealthy habit. Do any of these with the same true passion that some of my students display while working on their research papers, and your quality of life improves immeasurably.

Talk to someone who's really hooked on eating right or working out and he or she will say the same. But for some people, "immeasurables" won't elicit true passion; however, clear-cut proof will.

Which is what a study on the benefits of vigorous exercise published about a month ago provides.

It found that legitimately vigorous exercise not the now-all-too-frequent 30-minute walk where you can comfortably converse the entire time fights aging.

Researchers were able to ascertain this by comparing the ends of chromosomes of long-term, vigorous exercisers runners the average age of 51 who had been averaging 50 miles a week since they were young with healthy nonexercisers of the same age.

The condition of the ends of chromosomes, called telomeres, are known to be an indicator of aging. As people age, telomeres shrink.

But the runners' telomeres did not show nearly the same amount of shrinkage as the control group. Those who don't fear a few wrinkles need to keep in mind that many experts also feel that this shrinking increases the likelihood of a number of serious medical conditions: infections, cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer's, heart disease, and some cancers.

In numerous past columns, I have criticized the medical community for their lack of clarity about research. Cautious to a fault, most medicos fill their quotations with so many "mights" and "coulds" that the research's effect on the public is mitigated.

With that in mind, consider the bold quotations culled from the McClatchy-Tribune article published in newspapers.

Barry Franklin, a psychologist not associated with the study called the study a "blockbuster." Patrick McBride, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health said that the study proved that "regular exercise is an anti-aging activity."

Now the question is: How in the world do you ever get yourself to commit so totally to exercise that you become a lifer and workout with the same regularity and commitment found in the studied group who averaged running 50 miles a week for most of the adult lives?

It all goes back to what a few students of mine will find while working on their research papers this year: true passion. The reading and the writing will not feel like work, for they will become so immersed that it's no longer work.

It's a part of them.

If you can get to the point where exercise isn't an activity performed to insure a base level of health and fitness but rather a way to fully experience your body and yourself, then you, my friend, will be truly blessed at the beginning of this new year.

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