Date: May 1st, 2012
Exercise is good for your health. Not surprising right? We’ve all watched countless news reports and read stacks of stories extolling the virtues of regular exercise. So why do only 30% of adults between the ages of 45 and 64 report that they engage in regular physical activity? That number gets even lower as we age with only 25% of people between the ages of 65 and 74, and 11% of those ages 85 and older, saying that they exercise regularly. Keep in mind that those numbers are probably higher than reality because people tend to over-estimate how much they exercise when they are reporting it to others.
Physical Activity Improves Health and Reduces Disease Risk
Obesity has long been linked to disease and disability—and likewise exercise has been linked to good health—but more and more research is emerging that makes the direct connection between lack of exercise and disease, no matter what your weight.
Recent research from the University of Missouri found that a lack of physical activity caused blood sugar spikes because the unused muscles needed less fuel and drew less sugar out of the blood. These sugar spikes are known to contribute to the development of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, even in those who are not overweight. Luckily, these spikes are easily regulated and returned to normal with regular exercise.
The brain also appears to benefit significantly from exercise. Physical activity increases brain activity so the body sends extra fuel to the brain. This extra fuel in turn improves cognitive function. This can have an impact on how our thinking and memory work even when we’re not exercising.
Another recent study showed that consistent exercise can reduce the risk of death from colon cancer. This research out of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the American Cancer Society found that people who exercised consistently for at least 10 years had a lower risk of colon cancer death. The study also showed that when it comes to the positive impact of exercise, it’s never too late in life to start.
No matter what your age exercise and physical activity can help maintain strength and fitness, improve balance, fuel the brain, ward off osteoporosis, reduce the risk of disease, manage and improve existing disease, reduce depression, and increase independence and overall well-being.
Considering all the benefits that have been proven from exercise, why do people do less of it as they age? Experts believe it’s a combination of believing it’s too late to make that much of a difference, and importantly, not knowing how to get started and do it safely.
Older adults tend to have more chronic diseases and physical limitations that can make exercise challenging. That’s where the National Institute on Aging’s Go4Life campaign comes in. Go4Life is an “exercise and physical activity campaign…designed to help you fit exercise and physical activity into your daily life. Motivating older adults to become physically active for the first time, return to exercise after a break in their routines, or build more exercise and physical activity into weekly routines are the essential elements of Go4Life.”
The campaign offers an evidence-based guide on exercise and physical activity, an exercise video, tip sheets, easy access to relevant science and news, and tools for making and coordinating a exercise plan, all of which are made available and promoted through an interactive website and a national outreach campaign.
The tip sheets include guidance on exercising year-round, low-cost exercise plans, finding the time for caregivers to exercise, family activities, finding a fitness trainer, exercising with physical limitations, and even motivating others to get active. The resources also include an interactive tool for putting together a tailored exercise plan, tracking your activities, and monitoring your progress. To learn more and to order the exercise guide, go to Go4Life.
What to Do at the Gym
The Go4Life campaign encourages 4 key types of exercise for older adults—endurance, balance, strength and flexibility:
Endurance exercises like biking, dancing, taking the stairs, swimming, and even brisk walking improve the ability to do activities of daily living like mowing the lawn, running errands, and chasing after the grandkids.
Strength exercises like lifting weights or using resistance bands improves muscle strength and can ward off age-related muscle wasting and make things like carrying the groceries and the grandkids easier.
Balance exercises can help prevent falls that in turn can lead to broken bones and other serious health risks for older adults. Yoga, walking, and many sports require balance. However, you can also do targeted balance exercises that require you to shift your weight and maintain your balance.
Flexibility exercises like stretching give you more freedom of movement so getting dressed and watching your blind spot while driving remain simple tasks.
Go4Life is making it easier to get started with all of these recommended types of exercise.