Move It or Lose It: Exercise as We Age

If you asked us why we exercise in our youth we probably would have said it had something to do with managing our physique and helping us reduce stress and do the activities that we love. As we age, the list of reasons why we should make time to exercise keeps getting longer.  Here are a few:

  • Building muscles to increase functionality to engage in activities
  • Staying flexible to increase mobility and stability  
  • Bearing weight increases bone density and helps prevent fractures and bone loss
  • Reduces the risk of getting diseases that are the leading causes of death in the United States such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, etc.
  • Increases immune system’s resilience to illness such as cold and flu
  • Better mental health and reduced risk of anxiety and depression
  • Decreases health risks such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Reduces glucose tolerance and resistance to insulin
  • Increases our oxygen intake to our brain and vital organs
  • Helps maintain a healthy blood supply to our muscles and organs
  • Assists in proper digestion and release of toxins in the body  

According to SparkPeople.com, the benefits of exercise and the consequences of not exercising are probably most notable between the ages of 50 and 70 than at any other time in your life. 

As we age, our metabolism drops, roughly 1-2% every year. That means that we begin to lose muscle and to gain fat more readily. Awesome. The good news is that if we are maintaining a healthy lifestyle and paying attention to how our body is changing, we won’t feel huge changes from year to year as we age; healthy aging us much more subtle.      

As human beings, we are communal people and strongly influenced by the people that we surround ourselves with. We tend to do something because so-and-so is doing it. The key to creating and keeping healthy patterns in our lives is to create a community of support and positive influence to help us stay motivated and positively pressured into making healthy decisions for our lives. So, in addition to the book club or yacht club meetings, make a bike club, a running club, a kayaking club, a get-off-your-fanny-and-use-your-body club. Build a community of individuals who are interested in staying active and not slowing down as they age.  

Some people need variety, and some people need routine when they exercise. Regardless of what your needs are, be sure that your exercise routine includes the following:

  • Regular Activity:  walking the dog, gardening, grocery shopping, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to run errands, etc.
  • Strength Training: Bearing weight is important for building muscles and strong bones
  • Stretching: Maintain flexibility through regular stretching our combine it with exercise through yoga.
  • Aerobic Exercise/ Cardio: It is important to give your heart a workout at least 3 days a week. Our maximum heart rate declines with age, so be sure to stay within your target heart rate for maximum safety and results.
  • Safety: Know the limits of your body and listen for when you are pushing too far. Over- exercising or pushing through pain can do more damage that good. It is also important to take resting days within the week for your body to recover. Shoot for activity 5 days a week.  

The final piece of good news is that it is never too late to begin to exercise. The positive health benefits of even walking just 30 (non-consecutive) minutes a day, 5 days a week are unbelievable. In fact, there is nothing more effective that we can do to improve our overall health. What our bodies need is our consistency, so try and get those 150 minutes a week into your schedule. Regular exercise is much more important than strenuous activities. Exercising our independence as we age begins with building a routine that will keep us active, resilient, and enjoying our new-found longevity.    

Published on August 7, 2015.