We’ve all heard about the many benefits of exercise — a healthier heart, stronger bones, improved appearance and flexibility — but exercise has many additional benefits, especially for seniors.
“Many characteristics we associate with older age — like the inability to walk long distances, climb stairs, or carry groceries, are largely due to a lack of physical activity,” explains Dr. John Montgomery, a family physician, medical epidemiologist and vice-president of Senior Care Solutions with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida.
However, according to AARP, 40 percent of people between 45 and 64 are considered sedentary. For people over 64, that number jumps to 60 percent.
“Some are worried that exercise will cause illness or injury,” said Montgomery. “Others think exercise means they have to do something strenuous, which they may not be capable of. What they may not realize is that it could be more of a risk not to exercise,” explains Montgomery.
Seniors can benefit tremendously from regular exercise. The Centers for Disease Control reports that seniors have even more to gain than younger people by becoming more active because they are at higher risk for the health problems that physical activity can prevent.
Even moderate physical activity can help seniors to:
Increase mental capacity
Research links physical activity with slower mental decline. Exercise increases blood flow to all parts of your body, including your brain, and might promote cell growth there. Exercise — particularly if it starts early and is maintained over time — is beneficial in preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. (Source: Senior Journal.com)
Exercise may delay or prevent many diseases associated with aging, such as diabetes, colon cancer, heart disease, stroke, and others, and may reduce overall death and hospitalization rates, according to the National Institute of Aging.
Injuries and wounds take longer to heal as people age. Regular exercise by older adults may speed up the wound-healing process by as much as 25 percent. (Source: Senior Journal.com)
Improve quality of life
A new study has found that previously sedentary senior citizens who incorporated exercise into their lifestyles not only improved physical function, but experienced psychological benefits as well. (Source: SeniorJournal.com)
This helps prevent falls, a major cause of broken hips and other injuries that often lead to disability and loss of independence. (Source: Senior Journal.com)
Increase life expectancy
Benefits are greater among the most active persons, but are also evident among those who reported moderate activity, according to the CDC.
A little goes a long way
“When it comes to exercise for seniors, consistency is more important than intensity,” explains Montgomery. Researchers have found that you don’t have to engage in strenuous exercises to gain health benefits. “Moderate exercise, such as walking five or more days a week, can lead to substantial health benefits. Even brief amounts of physical activity, say 10 minutes at a time, can be beneficial.”
Never too late
According to the National Institute of Aging, exercise isn’t just for seniors in the younger age range. People who are 80, 90 or older can also benefit greatly from physical activity. Exercising regularly can help prevent or delay some diseases and disabilities as people age. In some cases, it can improve health and independence for older people who already have diseases and disabilities, if it’s done on a long-term, regular basis.
“The key is to find something geared to your fitness level that you enjoy doing,” says Montgomery. “And it’s important to start at a level you can manage and work your way up slowly.” Start by seeing your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
Tips for sticking with an exercise program:
Have a plan
Identify obstacles and find ways around them. For instance, your fitness routine easily could run off track during the holidays and vacations. Look for hotels with a health club, and include a walking or biking tour of scenic or historic places in your vacation plans.
Review your goals
If you start to feel it’s just not worth it, think about why you decided to change in the first place. Maybe you wanted to lose weight. Perhaps you’ve lowered your blood pressure or are beginning to control your diabetes. Reminding yourself of the goals you’ve realized and the ones you’re still striving for will help you push ahead.
Mobilize your support system
Call on friends, family members, or neighbors who have been your cheerleaders. They can encourage you to stick with it.
Be easy on yourself
Falling off track doesn’t mean throwing in the towel. Remind yourself that change takes time.