The Importance of Exercise as You Age

Getting older is a natural part of life.  As you age, the things you must do to stay fit and healthy (like eating well, exercising and not smoking) become even more important.

The quality of your life as you get older will depend upon your ability to perform activities of daily living as well as continue the recreational pastimes you enjoy.

A regular regimen of exercise is critical to living a long and healthy life.  Your bodily systems change as you age.  With exercise, you can put a real separation between your chronological age (how old you are) and your biological age (your age based on your health and fitness status)!

Blood pressure – Older adults tend to have higher blood pressure during exercise.  A regular regime of endurance exercise like walking, running, cycling or dancing improves blood flow and reduces blood pressure.

Muscle – Muscle mass naturally declines with age (by about 5% per decade starting at age 30).  This happens because as people age they tend to become more sedentary which results in decreased strength.  With regular exercise, muscle mass loss can be reversed.

Bones – Bones become fragile with age as calcium is lost.  Bone breaks become more common (especially among the elderly) and can be life-threatening.  Weight-bearing exercises help to counteract bone loss and maintain bone integrity.

Fat – With the loss of muscle mass, body composition tends to change, replacing muscle with fat.  Any slowdown in physical activity will produce this result.  In addition, age brings with it a reduction in the number of calories your body burns at rest.  Regular physical activity can stop or reverse these changes.

Aerobic endurance – Maximum heart rate (220 – age) declines with age and cardiac output (volume of blood being pumped by the heart to the working muscles) is significantly lower in older adults.  However regular aerobic activity can improve cardiac output and overcome the effects of a lowered heart rate.

Bottom line:  Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.  Even those who are not physically active can benefit tremendously from starting aerobic exercise, resistance training and flexibility and balance training.  A safe exercise program will always do more good than harm.  In addition, look for ways to incorporate exercise into your daily life by walking, bending, reaching, twisting and moving.  Growing older doesn’t mean you have to give up the things you love to do.  Exercise can help older adults feel better and enjoy life.  It’s never too late to start to exercise… the best is yet to come!

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