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
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
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.
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
Be easy on yourself
Falling off track doesn’t mean throwing in the
towel. Remind yourself that change takes time.
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