You may be under the impression that exercise is less beneficial in old age than it was in your youth. This is wrong! In fact, the opposite is most often true: as you age, regular exercise is more important than ever. A recent study, combining results from Sweden and the United States, found that exercise was the single most important factor in determining longevity. Physical activity was more important than any other factor studied, even more important than the Body Mass Index, or BMI, that is often cited. BMI measures how “fat” you are.
Obesity is the factor most often named as a cause of poor health and reduced life expectancy. However, this study found that persons who were moderately overweight but physically active lived an average of 3.1 years longer than those who were at a normal weight but had a sedimentary lifestyle. Please do not misinterpret this; it does not mean that keeping your weight within normal limits is not important. It does mean that an active lifestyle and physical activity of some kind is equally important, perhaps more so.
We cannot avoid growing older, but that does not have to mean becoming inactive or disabled. Besides the direct health and physical benefits, exercise helps to maintain the independence that seniors value so greatly. Lifelong inactivity almost certainly means that the person will experience disability at some point and lose at least part of their independent life. You do not want that, so stay as active as possible for as long as possible.
If you have been a “couch potato” or a sedimentary office worker and are now retired, there is good news. The greatest benefit of exercise comes to those who have been the most inactive in the past! That’s correct! According to the Tufts University Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity, “The less active you are now, the more benefit you get from adding even a small amount of exercise to your life.” See http://www.nutrition.tufts.edu, December 2012 issue.
During your senior years, exercising may be especially important because it helps prevent or delay several diseases that are more common in mature adults. Physical activity is also an effective treatment for many chronic conditions that may develop with age. Arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes are some of the conditions that benefit from regular exercise. Exercise also helps to manage high blood pressure, vertigo, walking difficulty and obesity. All of these medical conditions reduce life expectancy, quality of life and the ability to remain independent.
Physical activity is also known to have psychological and social benefits. It may reduce the likelihood of depression, help you sleep better and improve your thinking and learning ability. It can brighten your mood and give you an “I can do this for myself” attitude. Some studies indicate that exercise reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and age-related decline in thinking and learning ability.
There is no doubt that exercise will lengthen and improve the quality of your senior years, but there are some reasonable precautions that should be observed. First, get a medical check-up before you begin an exercise program, especially if you have medical problems, or if you have not exercised previously. Tell your physician what kind of exercise you intend to start. If you are in your sixties and have no exercise history, it is probably not wise to take up a high impact exercise program like running or power walking, but regular walking would be fine.
Get good equipment, especially good shoes, and dress simply; aim for comfort and safety, not style. Exercise regularly. Try to exercise nearly every day, and choose an activity that is appropriate and doable. The simplest, most available form of exercise for most people is probably walking. Other than good shoes, it requires no equipment and may be done almost anywhere. For seniors who have low bone density, the best kinds of exercise to make bones stronger are weight-bearing exercises like walking and resistance exercises such as lifting weights.
It is also important to remember your limitations. If you injure yourself by attempting an inappropriate exercise program, the result may be a reduction in your activity level. Pick one of the many forms of physical activity that you find enjoyable and safe for your condition. There are many possibilities: swimming, bicycling, walking, stretching and limbering exercises, group exercises for seniors and yoga all have benefits. If you have a special need or difficulty finding the right activity, you might consult a physical trainer or physical therapy expert.
Finding the right exercise or exercise program is one of the many opportunities, problems and choices that seniors face. Finding Assisted Living and FindingAssistedLiving.com exist to help seniors or their loved ones to make the best choice for their situation. FAL can provide dependable, knowledgeable, unbiased advice on local providers of home health services, physical therapists and other services related to exercise and the maintenance of independent living. Please call on us for advice you can trust.
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