La. seniors show exercising is not an age thing

As we hit the New Year, many make resolutions to stay in shape. New research is revealing some surprising numbers about just how effective exercise can be in warding off the aging process. CBS News correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook introduces us to one group that is living proof.

For anyone who thinks they're too old for exercise, meet the ladies of the Louisiana Tigerettes.

The Tigerettes have won seven gold medals at the U.S. Senior Olympics in a style that might not be considered very grandmotherly.

"What do the other teams say about you?" LaPook asked Nickie, 65.

"They call us the "Oh-No" team," she said. "When somebody says, 'Who ya playing?' and they say, 'You're playing the Tigerettes,' they say, 'Oh no!' (laughs)

The team has bulldozed its way to record of 195 wins against only 5 losses. That's remarkable, but it isn't their biggest accomplishment.

"I think I'm more toned. My posture is better, I sit up straighter," said Loretta Hill, 72.

" I keep my mind active and my body active, and that keeps me young," said Wanda Blailock. "And I think it makes me look younger."

LaPook asked Mary Bendsen: "When you look in the mirror now, what do you see?

"Hot!" (laughter)

They reject the notion that becoming frail over time is inevitable, and there's new science to back them up.

"It's amazing data that tells us we don't have to age in the that our did," said Pittsburgh orthopedic surgeon Vonda Wright. She said it used to be assumed people lose eight percent or more of muscle mass every decade after 40. That can cause loss of strength, mobility and balance.

But when Wright studied very active seniors, she found exercise seemed to be protective.' These MRI images show how fat can infiltrate the muscles of a sedentary senior. Compare that a MRI from a 74-year-old tri-athelete, which looks very similar to one from a 40-year-old.

"We are not destined to go from lean flank steak in our 40s," said Wright. "if you think visually of what our muscles look like, to flabby rump roast. We do not have to become that way if we interject exercise throughout a lifetime.

It's an important 'if.' Regular, consistent and challenging exercise is key. The Tigerettes work out strenuously, four to five times a week.

Even moderate activity can help. One study showed a 31 percent reduction in falls among exercising seniors.

Mavis Albin, 75, played ball as a teenager, but sat behind a desk for 38 years before joining the team. "Three-on-three women's basketball changed my life," she said. It's just the most remarkable thing I have ever been involved in. "

Proving it's never too late to get back in the game.

For more on the Tigerettes, visit www.AgeofChampions.org

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook

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