Five Surprising Ways Exercise Benefits Seniors

Exercise benefits every body. Most people know this; it’s one of the reasons gyms proliferate. Exercise makes you feel better, puts more spring in your step, and has beneficial effects you may not be able to feel on your heart and other parts of your body.

However, many senior citizens seem to think exercise is not for them. By the age of 75, one-third of men and one-half of women[1] no longer partake of any physical activity.

Maybe what’s needed is an awareness of how much exercise can specifically benefit seniors. After all, the benefits of exercise at any age[2] also apply to seniors. A 32-year-old may be bicycling knowing that it improves circulation and makes the heart stronger. But a 67-year-old benefits from bicycling in exactly the same way.

Many of the effects people have long associated with aging are in fact effects that everyone who doesn’t exercise feels to some extent. They become more likely to get tired, feel less strong, and are less flexible.

Plus, the good news is that you don’t have to exercise a lot for it to have beneficial effects. Starting a program of 15 minutes to half an hour each day will result in benefits. You don’t need special equipment — simplywalking in the park or up stairs is an excellent exercise for strength and endurance. Touching your toes 20 times will help build flexibility.

It’s never too late to receive the benefits[3] from exercise. Even a moderate exercise program will have an impact. Be sure to include both exercise that promotes strength and endurance (walking, swimming, bicycling, rowing) and flexibility and balance (yoga, stretching, weight training).

Here are five healthy things exercise does.

1.    Promotes Weight Loss

Because everyone’s metabolism slows down as they get older, weight gain is very common. Weight gain affects the body in many ways. It can increase your chances of getting diabetes and osteoarthritis, and worsen those conditions if you already have them. It can make you move slower and feel tired. A steady program of exercisecan counteract the effects of a slowing metabolism.

2.    Increases Flexibility and Balance

One of the main effects of aging is slightly more difficult moving and bending. Perhaps the bed is a bit harder to make or you can no longer reach groceries stored on the top shelf. You may also have less acute balance than you once did, so bending and lifting can knock you off balance and be more difficult.

With regular exercise, you can continue to make your bed and reach top shelfs with the same flexibility as when you were younger. Exercises that promote flexibility and balance, such as yoga or a weight-training circuit, are best.

3.    Counteracts Depression

Many senior citizens wrestle with depression. Perhaps they’re more isolated than they used to be, or feel more cut off from the community. Exercise helps with depression in two ways. First, the activity itself increases the flow of endorphins to the brain. Endorphins are mood elevators. Second, exercise often takes us out of the house and into a social group. Traveling to a gym to participate in a group exercise every week or so can counteract depression.

4.    Manages Chronic Diseases

Many senior citizens have chronic diseases, including heart disease (hypertension and stroke), diabetes, and arthritis. Exercise is recommended to help combat many diseases. A diagnosis does not mean you can’t exercise!

You should check with your doctor, of course, before starting any exercise plan, but many doctors include exercise as part of the treatment. Exercise keeps lipids, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels down, and it makes people more limber if they suffer from arthritis. Any cardio exercise (walking, swimming, rowing, bicycling) is good for heart disease and diabetes. People with arthritis will find that swimming is low impact and therefore good for their joints.

5.    Maintains Brain Health

Forgetfulness is a stereotype of older age, but it doesn’t have to be. There are specific diseases, like Alzheimer’s, in which forgetfulness is a symptom, it could be related to lack of exercise in older people.

Research has proven that endurance and strength-building exercises benefit the brain’s ability to retain information[4] and maintain good thinking skills. In addition, some memory loss may be caused by stress, anxiety or lack of sleep. Exercise also lessens stress and promotes better sleep. Studies show that positive effects can occur with only two hours of activity each week.

Start today to realize the many benefits of exercise. You’ll feel better, get a better night’s sleep and maintain your health.

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