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Vitamin E, Exercise And Aging

Exercise is a great way to prevent or delay age-related diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's. Vitamin E supplements, with their powerful antioxidant properties, can also be helpful in delaying age-related diseases.

According to a study in the July issue of Biological Research for Nursing, combining exercise and vitamin E, provide a better defense against several ailments caused or worsened by age than either strategy used alone.

Researchers tested both anti-aging methods on 59 men and women between ages 60 and 75 who were not regular exercisers. Half continued their sedentary ways while the other half started a 60-minute, twice-weekly exercise regimen. Those two groups were then divided, so that half each of the exercisers and sedentary folks received either an 800 IU vitamin E supplement or a placebo.

Whether they exercised or not, those taking vitamin E pills had a 50 percent reduction in free radicals - unstable molecules that damage cells and are believed to contribute to the development of some 200 different diseases, many of them age-related.

But exercise still provides its own protection - boosting antioxidant substances that combat these free radicals. It also reduces risk factors such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes that worsen free-radical cell damage.

So while the group that exercised and took vitamin E didn't fare any better than those who took just the pills as measured by reduction in harmful free radicals, the group who became active lost weight, reduced their blood sugar and blood pressure levels, and increased their exercise capacity. As expected, the sedentary folks didn't.

"The conclusion is that a combination of moderate exercise and vitamin E is the most effective way to go," lead researcher James Jessup, PhD, RN, of the University of Florida College of Nursing, asserts. "The benefits of vitamin E and exercise are tangible and intangible."

After about age 40 or 45, the body produces more free radicals and fewer natural anti-oxidants to fight them. To get protective benefits, you really should take supplements - especially as you get older. Vitamin E prevents free radicals from bumping into cell walls and destroying them.

Other Vitamin E Benefits
Other research indicates that vitamin E offers even more benefit to those who also exercise. According to a 1999 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, it improves lung function in those who work out when the air quality is poor.

More importantly, an October 2001 study in Nutrition suggests that a daily vitamin E supplement prevents some of the free radical damage caused by physical activity - especially if exercise is occasional or takes a great toll on your body.

"Although it's very beneficial, exercise does produce free radicals," says Jennifer Sacheck, PhD, cell biologist at Harvard Medical School and a researcher on the protective properties of antioxidant nutrients. "And if there's any damage to muscles, inflammation also produces free radicals."

But taking vitamin E "blunts" this damage, she says. "A little free radical damage, like that from exercise, isn't bad because it stimulates a natural antioxidant enzyme. But if it skews over to be negative, a little extra vitamin E is helpful."

Doses in the 800 to 1,000 IU range - used in Jessup's study, as well as others showing protection from free radicals - may be no more effective than her recommendation of 200 to 400 IUs daily.

"Other studies suggest that taking 200 to 400 IUs daily is as good as taking 800 to 1,000 IUs ... and it's cheaper."


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