Exercise is good for you no matter what your age. But it may be especially important to exercise in later life . And don’t worry if you’ve haven’t exercised before. It’s never to late to start as being active now is what’s most important. So here are five reasons to exercise as you get older:
Maintain Independent Living
If you ask someone how they see their life in their last couple of decades, many will say they want to live independently. This is an admirable goal. Besides, who wants to think of ourselves being so weak we need to have help with simple tasks of daily living.
In order to keep up with activities such as housework, grocery shopping and washing dishes, our body needs to be strong enough. This may sound easy, but for most people, fitness and strength decrease with age. We may attribute this to natural ageing but much of it is the result of being less active as we get older. Over time, these tasks we take for granted become even more challenging.
We might not notice our activity decreasing, but life changing events such as promotion to a more sedentary job, retirement and even downsizing one’s home are all associated with reduced activity. And when your body has less physical work to do, it adapts and sheds muscle and fitness . The good news is, the opposite is also true. Even starting an exercise program in your 90s can improve strength.
Improve Balance and Prevent Falls
Falling is one of the biggest concerns people have later in life, and it isn’t without reason. In the US, more than one in four people over 65 years fall each year. And about 20% of falls result in an injury. Falls are the greatest cause of hip fractures and head injuries are also common. Either one of these can lead to long-term impairment and early death.
Even if one isn’t injured, a fall can still be a traumatic experience, as it underscores a personal vulnerability. Falling in public might result in help from bystanders, but it can also be embarrassing for the person. And for someone with a history of falling, navigating a busy sidewalk can be enough to make them stay at home. Falling while alone at home can be equally devastating as it may mean staying in the spot you fell until someone finds you.
There are several risk factors for falls with two of the most prominent being lower body weakness, and difficulties with walking and balance. Both of which can be prevented through regular and exercise as highlighted in recommendations for preventing falls.
Reduce Chances of Mental Decline
Poor memory and decreases in mental ability (cognition- the understanding and processing of information) are other fears people experience with age. For people over 65 , approximately 10% have dementia. This triples to 30% in people over 85 years.
While some decreases in mental ability are inevitable, there is evidence to suggest physical activity can help improve memory and cognition. Symptoms of mild cognitive improvement, which is a precursor to dementia, can be improve with regular exercise. Similar results have also been found in people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Part of the benefits may come from improved fitness as higher fitness levels have been associated with a delay in onset of dementia by ten years.
But you don’t have to wait weeks or years to see an effect. You will start to notice a difference right from your first session of exercise. As little as one bout of activity can refresh your mind and improve your memory. And it may only take as little as ten minutes of activity to see the effect.
Sarcopenia is an extreme condition of loss of muscle, resulting in a loss of strength. It occurs in 10% of adults 65 years and older and is present in nearly half of people over 80 years. It occurs as a result of changes to hormones and the nervous system as one ages. But decreasing physical activity can also speed up its progress.
People with sarcopenia experience a loss in muscle size, weakness, reduced fitness and poor balance. This can make things such as walking up stairs and reaching for items from your top cupboard shelves difficult.
At present, there are no current medical therapies for treating sarcopenia. And while ensuring adequate protein intake can help prevent, and possibly treat, sarcopenia, regular exercise is considered to be the best way to maintain muscle mass. In particular, simple resistance training has been shown to be quite effective.
Reduce Social Isolation
While time alone every now and then is important for all of us, being lonely and socially isolated aren’t. Social isolation refers to the physical separation of a person from others, while loneliness is more of the perception of being alone. Both are related to poor physical and mental health, and increase the chance of getting disease and early death, as well as depression. In addition, people who are socially isolated tend to have a weaker immune system.
As we get older, the chances of being alone increase as loved ones get sick or pass away. We may also find it harder to create new and meaningful relationships. Additional concerns such as mobility issues mentioned above may compound one’s isolation.
Exercise is a great way to combat loneliness and isolation. Exercise can improve confidence and make you feel happier. In most cases, exercise also gets you outside. And being outside with nature is good for you and can boost your mood. It can be as simple as a walk in the park or even by the trees in your neighbourhood. There are also plenty of ways to make exercise social, whether walking with a friend or joining a fitness class where you’re bound to meet new people and feel part of a community.
How Much Exercise is Enough?
It doesn’t take much time or effort to reap all these benefits exercise has to offer. And you certainly don’t need to be a masters athlete. As little as ten minutes has been shown to improve mood and mental readiness. In addition, simple walking or home exercise such as here, are enough to improve your balance. Ideally, doing some type of activity for 20-30 minutes on most days is a great start. This can include a fitness class two to three times a week or trying one of the numerous YouTube videos such as this one. And remember, you’re never too old to start being active.
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