We’ve all heard about the many benefits of exercise – a healthier heart, stronger bones, improved appearance and flexibility – but exercise has other surprising benefits, especially for seniors.
According to the AARP, 40 percent of people between 45 and 64 are considered sedentary. For people over 64, that number jumps to 60 percent. Some seniors worry that exercise will cause illness or injury. Others think exercise means they have to do something strenuous, which they may not be capable of doing. What many people may not realize is that it could be more of a risk not to exercise.
Seniors can benefit tremendously from regular exercise. By becoming more active, they have even more to gain than younger people because older people are at higher risk for the health problems that physical activity can actually prevent.
Even moderate physical activity can help seniors to:
• 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 promotes cell growth. Exercise – particularly if it starts early and is maintained over time – is beneficial in preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
• Prevent disease
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.
• Improve healing
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.
• Improve quality of life
Senior citizens who incorporate exercise into their lifestyles may experience psychological benefits as well.
• Increase balance
Falls are the major cause of broken hips and other injuries that often lead to disability and loss of independence.
• Increase life expectancy
Benefits are greater among the most active persons, but are also evident among those who reported moderate activity.
A Little Goes a Long Way.
When it comes to exercise for seniors, consistency is more important than intensity. 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.
It’s Never Too Late!
People who are 80, 90 or older can benefit greatly from physical activity. Exercising regularly can help prevent or delay some diseases and disabilities as people age. It may 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.
TIPS FOR STARTING AND STICKING TO 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 keep you focused.
Mobilize your support system
Call on friends, family members, or neighbors who have been your cheerleaders. They can encourage you to stick with it.
Be easy on yourself
Remind yourself that change takes time. Whether just starting a routine, or falling off track, the fact that you’ve made the decision to change is worth being proud of.
Lois Young-Tulin, PhD, is an Assistant Geriatric Care Manager at Complete Care Strategies