Why You Can’t Afford to Stop Exercising as You Age
We’ve been taught from our youngest years that exercise is good, but does that hold true at every stage in life? What happens when your body starts to age, and the things that once kept you fit don’t feel quite right anymore? Maybe you ran or walked several miles a day, but now it hurts your knees. Or maybe that weightlifting routine that kept you pumped up is putting stress on your inflamed joints.
Exercise: “Essential to Healthy Aging”
The CDC is very clear that exercise is not just a nice “extra” for seniors; it’s essential if you want to maintain quality of life as you age. This may mean that you need to adjust the way you exercise, but you should make every effort to stay as physically active as possible.
Check out these benefits of exercise for the aging body:
1. Preserves Muscle Mass – Muscle mass decreases at a rate of 3 to 8% every decade once you hit age 30. That decrease sharpens once you hit age 60. Muscle mass allows you to keep up with all of your daily activities…climbing stairs, going on walks, gardening, lifting things around the house. Maintaining your strength allows you to keep up those tasks without having to depend on others.
2. Prevents Disease – Risk for heart attack, stroke, coronary heart disease, and heart failure increase significantly after age 65. The same with type 2 diabetes, due to a downturn in insulin secretion and uptick in insulin resistance as we age. Exercise has been shown to reduce risks for heart conditions and for diabetes.
3. Prevents Bone Loss – After age 50, bones can start losing density, which leads to more bone breaks. In fact, one in two women and one in five men sustain bone breaks after age 50. Weight-bearing and resistance exercises can keep those bones more robust and resilient.
4. Boosts Cognitive Function – According to one study, people over 60 showed a decreased risk for Alzheimer’s when they participated in 30 minutes of daily exercise. This is one of countless studies linking physical activity with lowered risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Why the link? Exercise expands the capacity of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex—two key parts of your brain that control memory and learning.
5. Decreases Slip and Fall Risks – Slips and falls at any age can take a long time to recover from, but this is particularly true in the senior years. There are several reasons for this. First, wound healing is slower because the aging immune system doesn’t launch its “inflammatory response” quickly enough. This is the response that allows nutrients and white blood cells to reach the wound to hasten healing. In addition, skin is less elastic, which can also deter wound healing. Another factor is that there are fewer stem cells in our bone marrow as we age, resulting in fractures healing more slowly.
Regular exercise leads to better strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination, making you much less likely to fall in the first place.
6. Can Increase Sociality for Better Mental Health – Exercise opens opportunities to stay active in a group setting, whether it be joining a walking club, taking an exercise class, or simply going to the gym with others. This helps combat isolation and depression.
Exercise also triggers a release of feel-good chemicals known as “endorphins” that help you feel happier and more vibrant.
What Kind of Exercise is Best for Me?
Don’t be discouraged if you can’t do the same kind of exercise that you could do in your younger years. Running and pumping iron are great, but there are so many other ways to stay in shape that don’t carry as much risk for injury. Keep an open mind and allow yourself to discover new ways of staying fit.
● Aerobic Activity – Walking is far easier on the joints than running, and when you keep a brisk pace, you can burn some serious calories. Plus a walk in the great outdoors while breathing fresh air can really boost your mood.
If walking doesn’t feel good on your joints, there are plenty of other options, including swimming, which works your heart and multiple major muscle groups without stressing your joints. You could also ride a stationary bike.
Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic activity per day, either all at once or split into a couple of different sessions.
● Strength Training – Bodyweight exercises can help you maintain strength without hurting your joints. You can do pushups/wall push ups, squats, and lunges. If you’re up for a little extra resistance, try adding light handheld weights or resistance bands. Two to three strength training workouts per week combined with a few days of aerobic activity can work wonders for your coordination, balance, strength, stamina, and heart health.
● Low-impact Workouts – Think yoga, Pilates, or a combination of the two known as PiYo. These forms of exercise are very easy on your joints while boosting your flexibility, core strength, muscle mass, and bone strength.
For best results, mix it up for a combination of benefits. And if you’re stuck in a rut and not loving your current exercise routine, try something new. The best kind of exercise is the one you’ll do, so if you’re dreading being active, it’s time to look around for something that will motivate you to get up and moving. Many Salt Lake City senior living communities recognize the benefits of exercise and offer a variety of options for all ability levels.
Make sure to talk to your doctor before starting something new, especially if you have mobility challenges or chronic conditions. Your doctor can make sure that your exercise routine will support, not hinder, your overall health.
That body of yours is beautiful and capable. You may not always feel like getting it in motion, but the more you invest in keeping it active and strong, the higher your quality of life can be as you age.