By Elizabeth Allen, Nurse Practitioner, AgeWell Medical Associates
Exercise Is So Important to Maintaining Good Health as We Age
That old expression “if you don’t use it, you lose it” is true! Regular physical activity is an important part of aging well. Activity helps to prevent, delay or improve chronic disease. In fact, a recent report by the World Health Organization found that even brain health is improved and the risk of dementia decreased through regular exercise and other healthy habits.
Despite the benefits, however, 31 million adults age 50 or older are inactive, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), contributing to low energy, not feeling well, and worsening chronic health problems.
Make a commitment to yourself – get moving at a level you can tolerate and realize the benefits of more regular physical activity. A total of 150 minutes of activity is recommended per week, and this can be broken down into small increments, spaced out over the entire week. Levels of activity should be adjusted for those individuals with disabilities.
Different Types of Exercise – Aerobic, Strength, Balance and Flexibility
Aerobic exercise results in an increase in your breathing and heart rate. Strengthening exercise helps to build muscle, whereas balance exercise decreases fall risk which in turn prevents fractures. Fractures in the older population can result in significant disability and poor quality of life. Exercise that concentrates on flexibility results in improved range of motion of joints and mobility.
Before activity it is important to warm up and after activity, cool down. Start and end with a slower pace or lower intensity. This helps to prevent injury and muscle fatigue. The warm up and cool down time can be counted into your total activity time.
Aerobic activity helps to build energy or endurance. Walking is a great form of aerobic activity. You just need a good pair of tie shoes and a safe place to walk. Walking indoors at a mall or a store are good options. You can even walk around your house or use a stationary bike or a treadmill. Other examples of aerobic activity are dancing, swimming and aerobic classes in the pool or gym.
A way to gauge your level of activity is talking: if you can talk with no difficulty, you are not working hard enough. If you can’t talk at all you are working too hard. Try to find a happy medium pace.
Strength building activities should be part of your fitness routine at least twice a week. It is important to include all of the major muscle groups: legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms. Doing repetitions of the exercises facilitates muscle building. One set of 8 to 12 repetitions is beneficial, but if you are able to do two to three sets, that is even more effective. Examples of muscle strengthening activities include exercises using bands, weight machines and hand-held weights. Callisthenic exercise such as jumping jacks, sit ups, push-ups are all good options. Gardening and carrying groceries even count as aerobic exercise as well as some forms of yoga and tai chi.
Working on balance is very important for the older adult especially those at higher risk for falling. A concentration on exercises that maintain or improve balance will be beneficial. Balance training is recommended at least three days a week. Some examples include: walking backward and sideways, heel/toe walking as well as getting up out of a stationary chair. Regular participation in these activities have been proven to reduce fall risk.
Flexibility is an integral part of physical fitness and is needed to participate in other forms of activity. Stretching exercises should include the neck, shoulders/arms, chest, back, thighs, hamstrings and calves. Restorative Yoga classes can help to increase flexibility, as well as heal from injuries. If you have access to a computer a good resource for stretching exercises can be found on the Silver Sneakers website https://www.silversneakers.com/blog/stretching-for-seniors-7-simple-moves-for-the-not-so-flexible/
The good news for Seniors is that many Medicare supplements offer free membership in the Silver Sneakers program or cover a gym membership, so check out your eligibility with your insurance carrier.
Some other internet resources:
Try These Exercises: https://go4life.nia.nih.gov/exercises/
Walking Tips from the Heart Association: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/walking/why-is-walking-the-most-popular-form-of-exercise
There are multiple benefits to be gained from regular physical activity, including a lower rate of overall mortality, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer (colon and breast). There is an added benefit of higher level of heart and lung function, muscle strength and decreased body fat. People who are active show a higher level of overall functional health. This includes lower fall risk, improved cognitive function as well as reduced risk of moderate to severe functional limitations and a positive impact on quality of life. Increased activity can improve your mood, decreasing feelings of depression, stress and anxiety.
It may take some effort to get moving, but you’ll be glad you did. Any increase in your level of activity will be beneficial for you physically and mentally. Remember to check with your healthcare provider before embarking on a new level of activity. They can help to guide you on your journey to better health.