I have a postcard on my refrigerator with an older couple dancing. The caption reads “You rest, you rust.” This is very true. Mobility declines the longer one is inactive, and a decline in mobility greatly influences one’s ability to perform ADL’s (activities of daily living) and remain independent. The average American now sits more than we sleep, averaging 10 hours a day. The more one sits, the greater the probability of death from all causes. We were designed to move. Exercise is one of the cornerstones for any healthy aging program for many reasons…it’s great for our body AND our mind.
- Exercise can decrease the risk of age associated diseases and disabilities.
- Exercise increases ability to perform ADL’s and remain independent. It aids in balance, strength, and stamina. It has also been shown to reduce one’s fall risk by 46%.
- Exercise is great for our cognition. Exercise promotes neurogenesis, which is the formation of new neurons. It was once believed that we were born with a certain amount of brain cells, and as they died off, they could not be replenished. We now know that is incorrect. Neurogenesis is particularly seen in the hippocampus region of the brain, which is vital for memory function. Studies show cognitive improvement among those with mild cognitive impairment and dementia after participating in a six-month exercise program. There is a growing body of evidence indicating that exercise can delay or slow the progress of cognitive decline.
- Exercise can help one maintain or lose weight.
- Exercise aids in improved quality of sleep.
- Exercise is a great stress reducer.
- Exercise has been shown to reduce depression…it’s great for our mood!
So, what counts, and how long is necessary to see results? It is recommended that everyone get 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. That breaks down to 30 minutes five days a week. It is also recommended that strength training, balance, and flexibility exercises be included in the weekly regimen. Walking is the most popular activity, but anything that keeps you moving will work. Other activities include swimming, hiking, playing fetch with your dog, or dancing. Good balance activities are yoga or Tai Chi. These are also great for flexibility. Strength exercises can be accomplished with body weight resistance, free weights, or resistance bands. The best advice is to find something that you like and just move! Even if one is confined to a chair, there are exercises utilizing resistance bands, weights, and body movements that can get the heart rate up and accomplish many of these goals.
It is never too late to start. In fact, research indicates that older adults who have never exercised before, experience greater improvement in mobility and cognition than their younger counterparts. If you are just starting, get the okay from your physician, begin slowly, and set achievable goals. It’s fine to get your time in, in smaller increments also. Try starting with a 10-minute walk, and gradually work up. If you need extra motivation, check with your local senior center or Silver Sneakers program. Currently, as we are experiencing the COVID-19 crisis, these are closed. When it is safe to gather in small groups however, these can offer a much-needed social component and a degree of accountability which may make it easier to follow through with your exercise program. Whatever it takes, whatever activity you enjoy, just do it! Your body and mind will thank you for it.