Healthy Aging – Exercise Essentials

Human bodies are made for movement—walking, running, bending, flexing and stretching. Keeping fit and active throughout life helps keep flexibility and balance as people age. Even people with arthritis have less pain and more range of motion when exercise is part of the daily routine. Physical activity strengthens muscles, helps keep bones healthy and is important for cardiovascular health. Studies have shown the positive effect of regular exercise on diabetes including stablizing blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and maintaining a healthy weight.[1] Regular physical activity can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.[2]

Even if you don’t exercise now, it is not too late to start. Of course, check with your doctor or primary medical practitioner before starting a new exercise routine.

Physical Effects of Aging

Although aging occurs gradually and each individual ages at a different rate and in a different way, bodies change as people age. Bones become thinner, muscles may lose mass or flexibility, the heart rate becomes slower and veins and arteries become stiffer, causing the heart to work harder. Skin may become drier and hair may thin. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise can delay or minimize many of these changes.

Exercise Essentials

Many changes in the body attributed to aging may be from lack of physical activity. A study in the 1960s on healthy 20-year-old men demonstrated that lack of physical activity for a three week period resulted in weakened muscles, higher blood pressure, more body fat and higher resting heart rates. The same men participated in a study at age 50 to examine the effects of exercise on older men. The results showed that a six-month period of regular endurance training (jogging, walking and cycling) reduced the effects of 30 years of aging in resting heart rates, heart pumping power and blood pressure.[3]

Beneficial exercises include those for endurance like walking briskly, dancing or swimming. Flexibility exercises like stretching or yoga help maintain freedom of movement. Balance exercises like standing on one foot as you wash dishes or brush your teeth help to maintain graceful movements and prevent falls.[4] Resistance exercises increase strength and maintain muscle mass. Exercise need not be separated from daily activities. Yard work, climbing stairs and walking a few blocks rather than driving are simple ways to incorporate aerobic movement into daily life. Exercising with a friend or family member and doing things that are enjoyable are ways to develop and maintain new habits.

[1] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/diabetes-and-exercise/art-20045697
[2] http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/33/12/e147.full
[3] http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Exercise_and_aging_Can_you_walk_away_from_Father_Time.htm
[4] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/spring12/articles/spring12pg9.html