Active Life = Longer Life

Well, the research is in and it proves that staying active throughout your adult and late adult life can help you live longer.  Let’s rephrase that….regular exercise can not only help you live longer, but live a longer life – both happier and healthier.  But that means I have to exercise, right???  But……I’m tired.  My joints ache.  And really does it matter?  The answer is an outstanding YES!!

In one study, exercise literally made the difference between life and death for middle-aged and older adults!  More than 10,000 men and women were divided into categories of low, medium and high fitness.  They were studied over a period of eight years.  The low fitness (also known as sedentary participants) were more than twice as likely to die during the eight-year time span of the study than those who were moderately fit and more than three times as likely to die as those who were highly fit.

In addition, the average person’s lean body mass declines with age – about 6.6 pounds of lean muscle are lost each decade during the adult years.  That rate of loss accelerates after the age of 45!  Laziness is a big cause of muscle loss.  “You don’t use it, you lose it,” says Miriam Nelson, director of the Sustainability Institute at the University of New Hampshire in Durham and the author or the bestselling book “Strong Women Stay Young.”

That’s bad news, not just because it makes it harder to lift a heavy suitcase or wiggling grandchild, but muscle helps but calories and it acts as a storage depot for crucial proteins that help you recover from injury or illness.  “Even in your 90s, you can regain muscle mass,” Nelson says.

The current recommendations for older adults’ physical activity are 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (brisk walking, for example) per week and muscle strengthening activities on two or more days a week.  (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016).  In the recent recommendations, even greater benefits can be attained with 5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.

So, what other benefits are there?  Exercise is related to prevention of common chronic diseases and the improvement in the treatment in many diseases.  Exercise can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, stroke, and breast cancer (Endes & others, 2016a, b; Roh & others, 2016).  When exercise is used as part of the treatment, individuals with these diseases show improvement in symptoms: arthritis, pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and Alzheimer disease (Grace & others, 2016; McPhee & others, 2016).

Exercise reduces the likelihood that older adults will develop mental health problems and can be effective in the treatment of mental health problems.  A recent study found that older adults who engaged in regular physical activity following a heart attack were less depressed than their counterparts who were more sedentary (Ernstsen & others, 2016).  Exercise can also reduce the negative effects of stress in older adults.  A recent study showed that older adults with a high level of stress who engaged in aerobic exercise had a lower cortisol level than their high stress counterparts who did not engage in aerobic exercise (Heaney, Carroll, & Phillips, 2014).

Exercise does amazing things for the brain.  Activities like Sudoku or crossword puzzles can help keep your brain active, but little comes close to the beneficial effects of exercise on the brain.  A recent research review concluded that more physically fit and active older adults have treated prefrontal cortex and hippocampal  (major part of the brain) volume, a higher level of brain connectivity, and more efficient brain activity (Erickson, Hellman, & Kramer, 2015).  Older adults who exercise regularly not only show better brain functioning, they also process information more effectively than older adults who are more sedentary (Barnes, 2015; Erickson & Liu-Ambrose, 2016; Johnson & others, 2016).  In the recent research review on brain functioning, the researchers also found that more physically fit and active older adults have superior memory functioning and a higher level of executive function (Erickson, Hellman, & Kramer, 2015).

So, overcoming obstacles to getting active as you age can be difficult.  Starting or maintaining a regular exercise routine can be a challenge at any age and it surely doesn’t get easier as you get older!  It is easy to get discouraged by health problems, aches and pains, or concerns about injuries, falls, or pulled muscles.  If you’ve never exercised before, you may not know where to begin, or perhaps you think you’re too old, frail, out of shape, or will never live up to the standards you set when you were younger.  These may seem like good reason to slow down and take it easy, but they are even better reasons to get moving!  So, let’s get up and get moving!!!

6 Myths Debunked by Senior Exercise and Fitness Tips

Myth 1: There’s no point to exercising.  I’m going to get old anyway.

Fact:  Regular physical activity helps you look and feel younger and stay independent longer.  It also lowers your risk for a variety of conditions, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s and dementia, diabetes, and certain cancers.  The mood benefits of exercise can be just as great at 70 or 80, as they were at 20 or 30!

Myth 2: Exercise puts me at risk for falling.

Fact: Regular exercise, by building strength and stamina, prevents loss of one mass and improves balance, actually reducing your risk of falling.

Myth 3:  It’s too frustrating: I’ll never be the athlete I once was.

Fact: Changes in hormones, metabolism, bone density, and muscle mass mean that strength and performance levels inevitably decline with age, but that doesn’t mean you can no longer derive a sense of achievement from physical activity or improve your health.  The key is to set lifestyle goals that are appropriate to your age.  And remember: a sedentary lifestyle takes a much greater toll on athletic ability than biological aging.

Myth 4:  I’m too old to start exercising.

Fact: You’re never too old to get moving and improve your health!  In fact, adults who become active later in life often show greater physical and mental improvements than their younger counterparts.  If you’ve never exercised before, or it’s been a while, you won’t be encumbered by the same sports injuries that many regular exercisers experience in later life.  In other words, there aren’t as many miles on your lock so you’ll quickly start reaping the rewards.  Just begin with gentle activities and build up from there.

Myth 5: I can’t exercise because I’m disabled.

Fact: Chair-bound people face special challenges but can lift light weights, stretch, and do chair aerobics, chair yoga, and chair Tai Chi to increase range of motion, improve muscle tone and flexibility, and promote cardiovascular health.  Many swimming pools offer access to wheelchair users and there are adaptive exercise programs for wheelchair sports such as basketball.

Myth 6: I’m too weak or have to many aches and pains.

Fact: Getting moving can help you manage pain and improving your strength  and self-confidence.  Many older people find that regular activity not only helps stem the decline in strength and vitality that comes with age, but actually improves it.  The key is to start off gently.

Laura Stanford
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By | 2017-11-01T18:58:49+00:00 November 1st, 2017|Blog, Fitness, Health|