September is National Healthy Aging Month, a designation to raise awareness of our changing health needs as we age as well as giving attention to the positive aspects of growing older. This month, we’ll look at the role exercise can play in helping us age healthfully.
Exercise and Aging
Exercise is important at any age but can be especially beneficial for seniors. It can reduce the risks of chronic disease, improve mobility, reduce the risk of injuries and bone loss, boost mood, and help maintain cognitive function.
However, many older adults become more sedentary as they age, especially those age 60 and older. As you become less active, your fitness and strength levels decrease. With these changes, older adults can become less able to do activities they did when they were younger, so they may further reduce their activity and continue the cycle. This can lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, which increases the risks of other diseases and early death.
The good news is that there is never an age when it’s too late to start exercising and reaping the benefits. Middle-aged and older adults can extend their life expectancies by becoming more physically active, no matter what their past activity levels were. Beginning an exercise program later in life can have the same benefits as participating in sports or vigorous exercise decades earlier.
Never too late to start
It may seem daunting to start exercising in middle age or later, but even as little as 20 minutes of walking per day can reduce your risks for early death by 20 percent over time. If you increase those 20 minutes to an hour or more, then you see a 35 percent reduction.
Other low-impact activities (such as yoga or Pilates) can also have benefits that can help with keeping muscles and bones strong and help with mobility as you age. Swimming or water aerobics are also good choices as they are gentle on your joints and can be helpful if you suffer from arthritis or other joint problems. The key is to find an activity you enjoy and are most likely to stick with on a regular basis.
Below are some of the benefits of exercising as you age for your health:
- Disease prevention. Regular exercise can help reduce or delay the risk of developing diseases like cancer, stroke, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Some research has also suggested that seniors who exercise at least three times per week have a 35 percent lower risk of developing dementia.
- Improved balance, stability, and mobility. The most common injury for seniors is falls. Regular exercise can improve balance and stability to prevent falls, as well as improving mobility for day-to-day activities.
- Maintaining muscle mass and preventing bone loss. Muscle mass begins to decline when we hit middle age and continues to decline with each decade of life. Maintaining muscle mass is critical to keeping strong and maintaining mobility, so you can remain independent as you age.
- Improved quality of life. Exercising regularly improves your mood and can help ease symptoms of depression.
With exercise, remember, consistency is much more important than intensity. Find something you enjoy doing and start slowly, at a pace that is easy to sustain.