A healthy diet and exercise are the two things most commonly considered as drivers of health and for good reason. Human beings were built to be active and regular physical activity can be the difference between aging gracefully and rapid decline.
Our increasingly sedentary lifestyles are an issue for overall health, contributing to a large number of chronic conditions that are both mental and physical. Here are seven of the most important reasons you need to adopt regular physical activity into your routine, particularly for older adults.
1. Weight Control
Maintaining a healthy weight makes exercising easier and supports healthy aging in joints. Obesity is a major risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes, respiratory diseases, arthritis and heart disease. Being underweight makes seniors more susceptible to broken bones and may have unwanted consequences for the immune system. Getting regular exercise can help you control muscle mass and lose weight in specific areas. Recommended exercises to support weight control in seniors includes: yoga, walking, pool exercises, stretching and strength training.
2. Combat Disease
Regular exercise has been proven to increase insulin sensitivity and decrease blood pressure. Physical activity also increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good cholesterol”) and can help ward off conditions such as stroke, anxiety, depression, arthritis, certain types of cancer, diabetes and problems surrounding the metabolism. If you’re already struggling with one of these conditions, regular exercise is vital to help improve health and get you back to feeling your best.
3. Improve Sleep
A good night’s sleep is important for anyone of any age, but for seniors, it plays an important role in memory function and the ability to concentrate. It also allows the body to repair damaged cells and boosts immune function. Seniors who struggle to sleep are more susceptible to having trouble paying attention, depression and night time falls. Additionally, exercising and sleep go hand in hand as it becomes more difficult for those who have not had sufficient rest to exercise.
4. Stronger Muscles and Bones
Later in life, a loss of bone density is common. Regular exercise can help slow this process as well as help fight osteoporosis, a condition that impacts the lives of more than 10 million Americans. Muscles may lose their ability to function the same as when healthy, leading to injuries and a loss of certain abilities. Older adults may want to consider an appropriate weight lifting program as it will help prevent feelings of weakness and frailty while ensuring strength, coordination and muscle mass are maintained.
5. Boost Brain and Memory Health
As your heart rate rises through exercise, the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain increases. This is good for the brain and is particularly important for older adults as aging comes with inflammation and oxidative stress that can alter the brain’s structure and ability to function normally. Additionally, exercise can reduce the risk of experiencing changes that lead to Alzheimer’s and help combat a variety of chronic diseases, many of which impact the brain. Studies also show that regular physical activity will engage the hippocampus, causing it to grow in size and help maintain healthy cognitive function in older adults.
6. Mitigate Risk of Falls
Exercise improves strength and flexibility, which in turn, increases balance and coordination. This reduces the risk of a fall that can, for seniors, be life changing. A study from JAMA Internal Medicine looked at more than 22,000 participants, concluding that “long-term exercise is associated with a reduction in falls, injuries from falls and fractures.”
7. Exercise as a Social Activity
Depression and loneliness are a major concern for seniors as they can lead to significant health issues. By partaking in exercise with other older adults, seniors can create healthy relationships with others, maintain a sense of purpose and, put simply, increase the amount of fun in their later years, thus living a longer, happier and healthier life.