When people think about their later years, they usually imagine a life freed from work or career commitments. They hope, too, that this new freedom will allow them to give their full attention to family, friends, and the activities they feel most passionate about. Making this dream a reality, however, requires health and independence, which in turn require a renewed commitment to staying healthy in general and to maintaining that health through exercise.
The good news, though, is that exercise confers all the same benefits to seniors that it does to those earlier in life, including increased longevity, improved mental clarity, a boost in energy, and greater strength to meet the physical demands of daily living. This is true even if you don’t start exercising until your later years. And while older people tend to become more sedentary as retirement and the challenges of old age restrict their activities, that doesn’t mean that you can’t make a reasonable course of exercise a part of your life or the life of a loved one.
With that in mind, here is everything you need to know about keeping an active lifestyle well into your senior years.
The Benefits of Exercise for The Elder Adult
As you think about bringing exercise into your life, you can start by understanding the benefits exercise can provide. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that both women and men receive great benefits from exercise and regular physical activity. Stamina and strength naturally decrease in most people as a function of age, but according to the CDC, most of the decrease comes from inactivity. 33% of men and 50% of women aged 75 or older, for example, engage in no physical activity at all. What’s more, the World Health Organization has identified physical inactivity as the number four cause of death in the world. And while leisure time for most seniors is increasing, there are more options to spend this leisure time in less active ways.
For this reason, achieving the benefits of exercise doesn’t require marathon-level training.
A senior’s physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous in order to bring great results – as long as it is done on a daily basis, in fact, it can be fairly moderate. What’s more, if you’re not interested in jogging, then you may be glad to hear that muscle strengthening activities are considered just as important as cardiovascular activities. Muscular strength helps to maintain balance in the body, reducing stress hormones and body fat mass, both of which help to foster cardiovascular health. Stronger muscles also reduce falling risks and keep seniors more independent on a day-to-day basis.
Here are some additional benefits of a consistent physical fitness routine:
- Increased strength – Exercise improves muscular strength and the nerves that are used to lift heavy objects. This does not necessarily mean that a person will get bigger; muscles can become stronger without increasing noticeably in size.
- Improved energy – With improved blood flow, less fat, and fewer stress hormones in the bloodstream, the body is more free to conduct its daily operations. When the body does not have to put as much work into functions such as breathing and pumping blood through the heart, you will feel the additional energy.
- Higher libido – Many older adults have reported a more robust drive for sex after a consistent exercise routine.
- Resistance to disease – The body is better able to ward off diseases of all kinds when exercise is undertaken on a daily basis.
- Resistance to physical accidents – The majority of health conditions in the senior community occur as a direct or indirect result of a fall. Physically fit older adults are less likely to fall or injure themselves during routine activities.
- Better posture – People who exercise generally have more balance and will have an easier time maintaining good posture because of the strength of their bones and muscles.
- Improvement in chronic conditions – People with conditions that might otherwise disable them or exacerbate physical or mental issues may see their strength and stamina improve through exercise, with a reduction in symptoms related to issues as varied as bone density loss, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and anxiety.
- Reduced blood pressure – Exercise reduces blood pressure,and can even help people with diagnosed hypertension experience fewer symptoms.
In addition to these physical benefits, exercise offers some key psychological benefits as well:
- Improved mood – Exercise is well known to be a general mood enhancer.
- Increased focus – If the body is in shape, the mind is much better able to focus on tasks. And again, exercise is also a well known deterrent to Alzheimer’s disease and general dementia.
- Less stress – Exercise allows the body to work off stress, which has the added benefit of getting rid of the stress hormones that can lead to heart problems.
Finally, improvements in physical and psychological health can lead to some significant benefits in other areas of an older person’s life, especially by prolonging their ability to live independently. In turn, this greater independence helps to maintain physical and mental health. In short, the effects of exercise are more holistic than even some doctors realize, and remembering this can keep you motivated as you begin your exercise routine.
Before You Start
Before you start exercising, however, remember older adults should check with a trusted medical professional before taking on any new physical regimen. Even helpful exercises can cause harm if they strain the body, and seniors are usually at a greater risk of injury. That means that your exercise routine should be specifically geared toward your needs and any possible risks.
For this reason, a visit to your family doctor is the first step for safety. The family doctor will be able to assess you holistically and pinpoint any problems that could arise as you begin to exert yourself. Medical professionals can also highlight conditions that could limit the scope or intensity of the exercise you choose.
Conditions that may cause an elder adult to change or reconsider their approach to exercise include heart conditions, other cardiovascular limitations, gastrointestinal problems, and conditions such as arthritis, dementia, fibromyalgia, cancer and obesity. This should not be considered a comprehensive list: your doctor will have much more information about the health of your body and how you should work in additional exercise.
Once an older adult has been properly diagnosed in a holistic way, individual conditions may be assessed by specialists. Doctors with a specialty in certain conditions may be able to better apply a conditioning or reconstruction program for a particular area of the body. Specialty doctors will also be able to better assess how an exercise program may exacerbate conditions that show up under physical stress for older adults.
Seniors haven’t reached the end: they’ve reached a new beginning. And Aging.com was set up to help you start this new phase of your life on the right foot. Our mission is to help you and thousands of other older adults who want to live independently, plan your finances, and take charge of your health care.