Exercising at any age has great benefits but as we grow older, staying physically active offers unique rewards, including countering age-related weight gain, building stronger bones, fighting off diseases, helping with balance and even slowing the aging process itself.
As we age, our bodies typically experience slower metabolism, a loss of muscle and bone mass, a decline in cardiovascular health and a slowdown of reaction times and reflexes.
To attain the most health benefits from physical activity, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services recommends participating in at least 150 minutes – or two-and-a-half hours – of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week and muscle-strengthening activity at least two days a week.
“Moving more and sitting less” is key, according to the federal government agency, since increased sedentary behavior is correlated with an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and all causes of death. Fortunately, any type of physical activity – even 10-minute sessions at a time – helps offset these risks.
Ailments that regular physical exercise and strengthening help prevent include many types of cancer, dementia, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and depression. Being more active also strengthens bones, lowers the risk of falls and helps combat weight gain.
For older adults, the National Institute on Aging says four types of exercise are especially beneficial:
Endurance exercises or aerobic activities
Strength or resistance training
Balance training and
The National Council on Aging recommends exercise routines that blend aerobic exercise, strength and resistance training, and stretching and flexibility exercises. Yoga, pilates, aerobic exercise such as walking, swimming and using the stationary bike are all good choices for older adults. Simple, low-impact strength-training exercises such as wall push-ups, stair climbing, squats and single-leg stands or routines using light hand weights or resistance bands are effective for building muscle and bone strength.
When getting started with an exercise program, the National Institute on Aging recommends the following to be safe and reduce the risk of injury:
Begin slowly with low-intensity exercises.
Warm up before and cool down afterward.
Pay attention to your surroundings when exercising outdoors.
Drink water before, during and afterwards even if you don’t feel thirsty.
Wear appropriate fitness clothes and shoes.
If you have specific health conditions, discuss your exercise and physical activity plan with your health care provider.
No matter what you choose to do to stay active, the bottom line is that exercising and working toward being physically strong helps with all aspects of aging and being healthy for years to come.