Staying fit with age
Why exercise is important in helping us stay fit with age
There are many physical and mental benefits of staying fit as we age which is why exercise is so important. Yoga is one of the most popular low-impact, high-result fitness options for seniors but it is far from the only one. Have you also thought about trying tai chi, walking clubs, swimming or meditation?
How exercise helps during the aging process
We can’t stop the aging process but we can significantly slow it down through regular exercise, proper diet, social connection and support, and a positive outlook. In a study of more than 5,000 adults into how exercise helps with the effects of aging, scientists discovered people who exercise regularly are younger on a cellular level than people who live slower, more sedentary lives. Telomeres, the protective end caps on chromosomes, are significantly longer in people who regularly exercise. Researchers estimate those shorter telomeres add 10 years of aging!1
Telomeres can be thought of as like the little plastic sheaths at the end of shoelaces. They prevent the shoelace from fraying. Over time they degrade and eventually the shoelace will fray and fall apart. In our case, when the telomeres degrade, the cell gets old and dies, which results in aging.
What are the actual benefits of exercise?
Regular physical activity has many benefits, in addition to fighting cellular aging, but this is just one of the reasons why exercise is important. Exercise helps maintain muscle mass, decrease fat stores, boost energy, improve mood, maintain mobility, reduce physical pain, improve confidence, prevent falls and so much more. In short, staying active can allow seniors to keep doing the things they love for a very long time.
Finding the right activity for your goals and personality is essential. If you don’t enjoy yoga, getting to class every day will be an impossible chore. If you prefer walking around the neighborhood with your friends, do that instead. Enjoying the activities you choose will greatly increase the likelihood that you continue your fitness routine.
The simple act of enjoying what you do for activity also helps you feel happier all day long. Physical activity prompts the body to release feel-good chemicals that can help you keep your thoughts and feelings aligned with positive aspects of your life. As we age, it can become harder and harder to keep our thoughts aligned with the positive aspects of life, especially if a lack of exercise has weakened our bodies. Staying fit and keeping a healthy mental outlook can help attract more positive feelings and experiences into our lives, no matter how old we are.
Different types of exercise
For the best results possible, try to incorporate several activities into your routine. This helps ensure you are working out all parts of your body for optimal fitness. The following are a few examples of fun activities you can choose from to stay fit as you age.
Tai chi is similar to yoga in that it is slow, low impact and often performed in groups with a leader. Both are also especially beneficial for increasing balance and strength—two key factors in preventing falls and maintaining mobility as we age. Researchers studying how exercise helps and the benefits of tai chi actually saw at-risk seniors reduce their risk of falling by nearly 50 percent by regularly practicing tai chi. Tai chi can also be adapted for seniors who cannot stand or walk without help.2
Swimming, water-walking and water aerobics are all great choices for seniors who fear falling. The natural buoyancy of water creates a safe environment to work muscles. And the resistance of water helps build muscle mass and improve strength. Swimming combines aerobic and resistance training in one workout. It is gentle on the body, making it a good choice for anyone with arthritis or joint pains.
Walking is an easy and effective way to stay fit because it can be done anywhere and requires no special equipment other than a comfortable pair of shoes. Joining a walking club can turn a good cardiovascular workout into a great one with added benefits for your brain. Walking with others may be safer because if an accident happens, there are friends nearby to help. It also creates accountability that will keep you lacing up your shoes even if you are feeling less motivated. Talking with friends while walking gives your brain a workout too. One of the best ways to maintain healthy cognition is to engage in conversations with other people. The social connection of walking clubs can also help prevent loneliness and boost overall mood.
If you enjoy biking but don’t feel safe on the road anymore, try a stationary bike. Biking at home or in the gym provides great exercise without the worry of tipping over or the uncomfortable jarring of riding over potholes. The same is true for stationary versions of skiing, stair climbing, jogging or rowing. These pieces of equipment offer most of the same benefits as the activities they are based on but include safety features such as railings and heart monitors.
Most adults begin to experience age-related muscle loss in their late 30s or early 40s. People who are not active at all can experience up to a 5 percent loss in muscle mass every decade. Without intervention, this loss can lead to decreased mobility, loss of balance and increased risk of falling in later years. To prevent and reverse age-related muscle loss, all a person needs to do is engage in some form of resistance training. Whether that takes the form of lifting free weights at the gym, swimming or simply lifting canned goods from the pantry, seniors can easily replace lost muscle. Resistance bands are often a good choice for seniors because they allow seniors who have balance issues to engage in resistance training from a seated position.3
With so many reasons why exercise is important, and now that you can see how exercise helps with the aging process and the various different forms of exercise available, there’s no better time to give a new type of exercise a try.
- Larry A. Tucker. “Physical activity and telomere length in U.S. men and women: An NHANES investigation.” Preventive Medicine, July 2017, Vol. 100.
- Lomas-Vega, R., Obrero-Gaitán, E., Molina-Ortega, F. J. and Del-Pino-Casado, R. (2017). “Tai Chi for Risk of Falls. A Meta-analysis.” J Am Geriatr Soc. doi:10.1111/jgs.15008.