We have all heard the mantra “exercise is good for you,” but how many of us truly realize the whole –body impact that exercise can have, especially as we age? By exercising regularly, seniors can reap great benefits in all aspects of their lives, including improved memory and cognitive functions, increased social interaction, higher self-esteem, greater physical strength, and a longer, more fulfilling life. Below are some of the ways that exercise can benefit seniors specifically, and a few of them may surprise you.
Improve Your Brain
For starters, a recent study published in the journal Neurology, shows that regular exercise can slow brain aging by as much as 10 years. In another study, scientists learned that brain neurons – the special cells that help you think, move, and perform all the bodily functions that keep you alive, and even help your memory – all increase in number after just a few days or weeks or regular activity. And in yet another study, researchers used an MRI machine to measure the amount of brain tissue in adults 55 years of age and older. Consistent with other studies on aging and brain volume, findings showed that with age comes a substantial decline in tissue density in areas of the brain responsible for thinking and memory. But in those who exercised regularly, these losses were substantially reduced.
Improve Your Mood
Regardless of age, physical exercise has been proven to improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. According to one Harvard Article, a study conducted by University of British Columbia, regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the section of the brain associated with verbal memory and learning. Exercise indirectly benefits the brain by improving functions and cell-growth, which in turn enhances sleep and other functions, and reduces stress and improves mood.
According to MedScape, a web resource for physicians and health professionals, in a 24-week resistance training study, participants reported significant improvements in total mood scores as well as reductions in confusion, anger and tension. Furthermore, aerobic exercise has been shown to bring about significant improvements and lower relapse rates in individuals diagnosed with major depression.
Raise Your Self Esteem
Even something as simple as working on balance is empowering. In one six-month study at the Oregon Research Institute, seniors participated in Tai Chi to determine the psychological effects of this particular exercise. At the end of the study, the subjects reported an increase in positive mental outlook, confidence, self-esteem and life satisfaction. The reason for this was tied to an increased confidence with balance and physical efficacy.
Become a Stronger You
So how much exercise do we truly need to stay healthy as we age? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activities on most days can help reduce all sorts of disease – especially diabetes and cardiovascular disease – by about one-half.
According to the American Heart Association, moderate intensity is when you feel “warm and slightly out of breath”. Examples include:
- Walking briskly (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking)
- Water aerobics
- Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour
- Tennis (doubles)
- Ballroom dancing
- General gardening
Examples of vigorous intensity (characterized by heavy breathing and sweating) include:
- Race walking, jogging or running
- Swimming laps
- Tennis (singles)
- Aerobic dancing
- Bicycling 10 miles per hour or faster
- Jumping rope
- Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
- Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack
In addition to aerobic activity, older adults benefit from resistance exercise, such as weight lifting or calisthenics, for a minimum of two days per week and flexibility activities at least two days a week for about 10 minutes each day. Yoga and Pilates are two good resistance and flexibility activities that can be done at any age and almost anywhere.
According to an article in Today’s Geriatric Medicine by Dr. Michael Joyner of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, World Bank statistics cites that as of 2010, 84 percent of men and 89 percent of women reached the age of 65, with men projected to live 17 more years and women 19 more years. Active people who don’t smoke, don’t drink too much, who watch their weight and remain socially engaged can live five to ten years longer, according to Dr. Joyner.
It’s never too late to start getting physical! Even simple, low-impact exercise on a daily basis can do wonders for your heart, brain, mood and body. Set a short-term goal and get moving toward a healthier, happier you!
It’s important to speak with a physician before beginning any exercise regimen, particularly for seniors. Schedule an appointment with a residency counselor to learn more about which classes and programming appeals to you.