Home » Exercise and Nutrition for Middle-Age and Older Individuals: Dr. Stella Volpe (Transcript)

Exercise and Nutrition for Middle-Age and Older Individuals: Dr. Stella Volpe (Transcript)

Full text of nutritionist and exercise physiologist Dr. Stella Volpe’s talk: “Exercise and nutrition for middle-age and older individuals” at TEDxSJU conference. In this talk, Dr. Volpe points out that it is never too late to start becoming an active and healthy individual. We just need to face that fact that exercise and eating habits are the best of attaining that.


Dr. Stella Volpe – Nutritionist and exercise physiologist

Hello everyone. It’s a real honor to be here at Saint Joseph’s University as part of the TEDx conference. So today my talk is a little bit different than Dean’s but it still has to do with nutrition and exercise. And basically it’s going to focus on nutrition and exercise in the older adult.

But some of the things I’ll talk to you about will apply to everyone in this room.

So with aging… and all of us are aging, that’s one thing we can’t actually stop… is there are things that are negative and positive that occur in our bodies and both play… both nutrition and exercise play a key role in preventing some of the things that aging… you know that occur with aging.

And one thing I’d like to make sure I say is that aging is not a disease. So so often people say well I’m older now and I can’t do this or that. And I really like to say that I think it’s because maybe they got old too fast. So we shouldn’t be stopping doing things just because we’re getting older.

And I’m still a competitive athlete in several sports and I’m not up here to talk about that. But one of the newest sports I brought into my life was just four years ago and that’s playing ice hockey.

So just so you know it’s OK to keep trying new things because that gets us cognitively challenging and also physically challenging.

So some of the things I first like to talk about are the changes that happen both in fitness and the metabolic profile, before I go on to just a couple of studies that we conducted in our lab with individuals of an older age.

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And so with older individuals who exercise, the good news is is that exercise can help stave off some of the negative impacts of aging. So unfortunately, at the age of 40 or so that some of the things that happen there just is called sarcopenia where we start to lose some muscle mass. But we can prevent that if we continue to exercise both in strength training as well as aerobic training.

And some of the… you know if you continue to exercise as you get older, yes you might lose about 10% of what’s called your VO2 max or that’s the measure of aerobic fitness, a maximal oxygen consumption. But you can decrease that if you continue to exercise.

Some evidence, also maintaining habitual physical activity can decrease disease. And something else just add, I’m talking about exercise here in planned exercise. But activities of daily living also count. So taking the stairs instead of the elevator is really an important part of what we can do.

As a matter of fact, couple of studies show that if they asked people in their office building just to take the stairs and asked half of them just to continue using the elevator, that’s the only thing they changed in their lives, that those who took the stairs improved their aerobic fitness significantly compared to those who did not.

So even in my office building when I go up 12 flights, people like you’re not taking the elevator, I said well as long as my legs work I will continue to use them.

So some of the things that change too with older exercisers they typically have the same type of profile as people as younger counterparts as people in their 20s and 30s. And when I say older that can be defined very differently but from about the age of 40 on.

And also blood sugar or blood glucose levels can be better maintained when people exercise and eat well and things like your lipid profile, your total cholesterol in your blood, your good cholesterol in your blood, those are better in folks who exercises versus those who don’t.

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So one of the studies we did in our lab was we recruited people who were overweight and obese that they were older. And we implemented this diet and exercise program with them.

So first let me tell you that the aim of the study was we wanted to see if they would lose weight based on our exercise/diet program. And so… and we measured a bunch of things. But I’m going to just talk about a couple of the things that we measured.

But the design of the study was a pretty basic one. We recruited about 90 overweight and obese sedentary individuals. They were about 40 some or so years of age and they had a body mass index of about 31. So most of them were overweight, not so much obese.

And what we did was we randomly assigned them to either a diet group an exercise group or a diet plus exercise group. And the diet group, we didn’t put them on a special diet; we didn’t give them special foods. I just taught them about heart-healthy eating.

And the exercise group… they got these Nordic myths track ski machines which some of you are too young to know but they’re these ski machines that use your upper and lower body. And we supervised all of their exercise programs. So they came to us… they started it three days a week and built up to five days a week for 30 minutes a session.

And then after six months, those in the two exercise groups… the exercise group and the diet plus exercise group were given those Nordic tracks to take home. And so then we would follow them up to see if did they continue with that exercise.

I will tell you that a lot of them did not but from our measurements of at nine and twelve months, so we measured them 0, 3, 6, 9, and 12 months, and mind you we measure their body fat; we measure their lipid levels; we measure their dietary intake.

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But this is the change in body weight in women and you can see that in women at about six months and nine months there was a significant decrease in their body weight in the diet plus exercise group; sort of what we expected, right? Diet plus exercise, you’d expect the greatest energy expenditure and intake.

But then what happened at 12 months? This thing called recidivism and they all returned back to normal, back to where they used to be. And the hardest thing for us to change as researchers are people’s behavior. And so when they left us and they didn’t have that great camaraderie and they didn’t have the supervision of exercise and diet, they went back to where they started.

And we see the same pattern in men. We only saw a significant difference for men at nine months. I don’t know why that was but they all returned back to their original body weight. And that gets frustrating for me as a researcher because I want to change the world and I want everyone to be great when they leave and everyone to be healthy. But it doesn’t always work.

So… but the one thing I do want to also tell you is is that we did improve their triglyceride levels in their blood, not in every group, with diet plus exercise group, there are a lot of data up there, but I’m just focusing on that.

And we also actually decreased the percent body fat and we measured that by something called underwater weighing which is one of the better ways to measure percent body fat.

Unfortunately, though, that didn’t carry through. Now mind you I keep doing work on different types of research. We have some research going on where we’re trying to change the environment to sort of force people to do better in their diet and exercise habits.

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