Martial Arts Defend Against Aging14 years, 12 months ago
Posted on Mar 26, 2004, 3 a.m.
By Bill Freeman
(HealthDayNews) -- Baby boomers bent on getting back into shape may want to give their love handles a karate chop: A new study finds the martial arts to be safe, effective exercise for 40- and 50-somethings. "If you want to do something that's fun, different and good for self-defense -- and good for long-term self-defense against disease -- do the martial arts," says study author and physical therapist Dr.
"If you want to do something that's fun, different and good for self-defense -- and good for long-term self-defense against disease -- do the martial arts," says study author and physical therapist Dr. Peter Douris, of the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, N.Y.
His findings appear in the March 25 issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
For most people, the decision to get fit usually means buying a gym membership or shelling out money for expensive home-exercise equipment. But what about alternative methods, such as practicing the martial arts?
In their study, Douris' team examined the overall fitness of 18 individuals between 40 and 60 years of age. Nine of the study participants had been practicing soo bahk do, a Korean martial art similar to karate or tae kwon do, for about three years. The other nine participants maintained a more or less "couch potato" lifestyle.
Overall, the soo bahk do devotees "were much more flexible, had more leg strength, less body fat, better aerobic conditioning and better balance" compared to the sedentary study subjects, Douris reports.
The martial art practitioners had an average 12 percent less body fat than the non-exercisers, the researchers report. They also seemed much stronger -- while sedentary types could only muster up 37 sit-ups in a row on average, the soo bahk do practitioners averaged 66 sit-ups before exhaustion set in. The martial arts group also displayed more than double the balancing power of non-exercisers and outperformed the sedentary types when it came to flexibility.
The study did not compare the benefits of the martial arts to that of gym workouts, running or other fitness options. However, Douris estimates that the average soo bahk do class raises students' metabolic level -- a measurement of changes in the metabolic rate -- to about a 10, a level equal to that of jogging.
And he believes that older individuals, especially women, needn't be put off by fears they will be injured trying out karate-like sports. "It's not like ju-jitsu or judo, where you're doing a lot of flips and throws," Douris explains. "There isn't that much of that in soo bahk do. You do fall down when you're 'free-sparring,' but there's people in the classes that are 60 years old -- they get right back up. There's plenty of women in these classes, too."
Dr. Douglas McKeag, a sports medicine expert at Indiana University in Indianapolis, believes the martial arts "are a perfectly acceptable way to boost fitness, certainly in middle age it makes a great deal of sense. The sport is capable of delivering the type of stimulus that the body needs to get in shape." But he cautions that, as with any new sport, beginners "have to come at it relatively slowly and intelligently."
Douris, 47, has been practicing soo bahk do and tae kwon do since he was a teenager and says he routinely beats competitors half his age in tournaments. He calls the sport "self-defense against aging."
In a second study, researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that another one-on-one contact sport, wrestling, boosts the immune system of adolescent boys.
The researchers measured levels of immune system white blood cells in blood samples from wrestlers aged 14 to 18 years old, taken before and after a typical 90-minute wrestling bout.
Wrestling appears to produce "significant and robust" elevations in immune cells, indicative of a healthy rise in immune function, the researchers report.
The finding came as no surprise to McKeag. "The fact is that wrestling, as with any form of exercise, can keep a person healthy." Exercise stimulates all of the body's organs, he says, including the lungs, heart and other vital structures, creating "a much more efficient body."