Exercise: The Older You Get, the More You Get Back
Medical doctors and researchers have been telling us for years that exercise is important for living a healthy and fulfilling life. An increasing number of research studies are indicating multiple benefits of physical activity for older adults. Aging is inevitable; your body begins to slowly break down, from your bones, to your muscles, to your brain. Due to this deterioration, as you age you can begin to lose both mental function and physical abilities. Not surprisingly, by keeping your body active, you can slow the deterioration of muscle and bone and maintain brain function as you age. In fact, numerous research studies have found that physical activity improves brain function, especially in the aging adult. This includes improved memory function and a reduced chance of dementia. Physical activity has also been used to treat and help prevent depression.
If you have not been active, all is not lost. Research has shown great health improvements in both men and women who began an exercise program after being sedentary for some time. Even moderate and light exercise can improve health. Just by walking every day, you can vastly improve your health and help maintain your bones and muscles, as well as your mental abilities. You may even be fighting cancer. Some studies suggest that one hour of exercise can significantly reduce your chances of acquiring cancer.
But don’t hit the weights just yet. Just like an athlete, you need to progress into more advanced exercises. Older adults should start an exercise program using only their body weight. Yoga, walking, and swimming are great for beginners. These exercises are relatively simple, and individuals can increase their own resistance as they get stronger. For example, you can advance a pushup by starting with your knees on the ground and work your way to your toes, or start with going only a quarter of the way down and work up to all the way down.
Once you have a solid strength and flexibility foundation, you can hit the weights, but make sure to use proper techniques. Hiring a personal trainer for the first month or so can be a big help when you are first getting started with weights. Still, you don’t need to lift weights to gain a benefit from physical activity. Cardiovascular training can significantly improve health, as well.
Older adults should incorporate both strength and cardiovascular exercise into their training programs. Combining yoga with walking, or swimming and biking, are two good places to start. Shoot for 30 to 60 minutes per workout, and aim for most days of the week. You may not be able to stop the aging process, but with physical activity you can slow down the deterioration due to aging and live a healthy, comfortable life. Remember: before you begin exercising, it is always best to speak with your doctor.
Dr. Moon is the Department Head of Sports Health and Fitness at the United States Sports Academy. He has trained athletes at all levels including professionals in Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the National Hockey League, as well as college athletes and teams in addition to youth and fitness clients.