The Importance of Regular Exercise in Seniors: The Secret to Long Life

A popular misconception is that exercise is just for weight loss and muscle gain. As we age, we can expect our physical and mental aptitude to diminish. From our 30's onward, we lose 3-5% of our muscle per decade. And consequently, we lose our strength and balance. If only there were a way to slow this decrease in strength, balance and mental capability. Wait! There is. Exercise has been lauded as the means of improving and maintaining mental and physical function as we age.

Senior exercising by running

What are the benefits of exercise in seniors?

More and more research is proving that exercise is good not just for strength and balance but also for mental fitness. Weightlifting or resistance training is known to be best for building strength and muscle mass.The main benefit of resistance training is improved balance and strength in our diminishing muscles. Good balance and strong muscles is good for mobility which is needed to reduce the risk of falling. We know that seniors have a high risk of falling and breaking bones. A relatively simple and easily adapted fix is consistent and moderate resistance training.

Scientists from Wake Forest School of Medicine found that aerobic exercise is best for improving verbal memory, learning, mental and cognitive function. Moderate and regular aerobic exercise leads to an increase in grey brain matter that supports memory function. It is widely accepted that aerobic exercise influences brain function as resistance training improves balance and strength.

Additional benefits of regular and moderate exercise are:

1. Strengthened immune system: a strong immune system helps with disease prevention.

2. Social engagement: when some of us decide to exercise, we tend to do it in groups and this helps to fulfill the need for a social component in our lives.

3. Quick healing: as a result of a stronger immune system and body function, we are more resilient. Our injuries and wounds heal faster.

4. Increase in happiness and reduction of stress: exercise causes a release of chemicals like endorphins. Endorphins are responsible for our mood, fighting pain and releasing stress. Regular release of endorphins means leading a low-stress and happy life.

5. Lengthened Life Expectancy: research indicates that regular exercise can lead to an increase in life expectancy by up to 7 years.

There are plenty of ways to help you get active and stay active. The human body is an amazing thing. Don’t be afraid to challenge it and do new things. Just remember to listen to your body and don’t push too hard too soon.

Senior women in group fitness class

What now? As a first timer or someone who hasn’t worked out in years, you may not know what to do or even where to start. Follow this guideline to get started:

1. Incorporate Cardio: You don't need to spend an hour on the treadmill. Cardio can be fun

a. Try long walks in the park

b. Have a dance-athon in your living room

c. Enjoy swimming? Throw on your retired bikini and get splashing!

2. Get to stretching: I know as you get older, you feel your muscles losing flexibility

a. Stretch your hips and legs while you’re watching TV

b. After your exercise, remember to stretch your muscles. Not only does it improve flexibility and balance, but it helps to reduce injury

3. Strength/Resistance Training

a. If you’re up to the challenge, join the gym and lift some weights…SAFELY

b. You don't need a gym. Do 20 squats when you go to the bathroom. Try 20 push-ups as you watch TV

If you decide to join a gym, you can always get a personal trainer that will tailor a program to your goals, capabilities and fitness level. For the home-based fitness warriors to-be, the internet is a reservoir of information that you can use for ideas. Evelo, in particular, I think you will find very useful. It tells you what exercises are best while maintaining safety.

Exercise is not my thing. What do I do?

As for those of us who absolutely hate exercise and working out, you must be wondering how you can incorporate exercise in your routines. It might seem like a mountain, but here’s how you can make it into a molehill:

Older woman dancing by herself

1. Choose alternatives:

a. rather than driving to the corner store, walk or ride a bike. Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs

2. Add music to your routine walks

3. If you like nature, schedule weekly hikes and don’t forget to enjoy the scenery

4. Find a workout buddy—they help to keep you motivated

5. Do things you love:

a. Join a dance or yoga class—they are less stressful on your joints

b. Take up swimming

c. Start playing table tennis

Before you make any serious changes to your daily routine, you should consult with a physician to ensure that you’re being safe. We all have different body types and needs. It is better to be safe than sorry. Consult your physician.