Staying Young in Old Age – The Power of Exercise

Taking care of seniors, and helping them to stay healthy and happy long into the old age is a hot topic. Scientists are looking for the ways to keep them healthy, health clubs and trainers are coming up with special exercise programs and physicians are quick to recommend exercise for anything, from obesity to Alzheimer’s.  Why such interest in seniors? In 2006, the oldest baby boomers turned 60 and officially became seniors. There are lots of baby boomers. According to the last census in 2005, there were 78.2 million baby boomers or people born between 1946 and 1964, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care for people age 55 to 64 costs $3,262 per year and for those age 65 and over, $3,899. So, it is in everyone”s interest to keep seniors healthy. But, not all seniors are the same, so the exercise regime should not be the same either.

Stretching exercises at gym

Why exercise?

If you are a senior who run, jogged, biked or swam your whole life, you do not need anyone to tell you why you should do it. You probably could not stop even if you wanted, unless you got sick. But, if you always had the excuse ” Ëœno time, too busy” ™, now that you are retired you have all the time in the world, and at least some of it should be spent on something good for your health. If you are still not convinced that you should bother with it, here is what National Institute for Ageing says you should do it for:

  • It will help you stay independent by improving or maintaining your physical strength;

  • Exercise will enable you to do all those things you want to do by increasing your energy level;

  • You will be less prone to falling down and breaking bones because exercise will improve your sense of balance;

  • With exercise you have less risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis;

  • People who exercise are less prone to depression.

Of course, if you think about it, you can come up with many other benefits:

  • Exercise will put you in touch with other people and will improve your social life;

  • You will feel better about yourself;

  • If you exercise outdoors you will enjoy nature in all its glory;

  • You will keep your weight under control;

  • You will be able  to eat things you enjoy;

  • You can wear some nice exercise clothes.


Exercise and mental health

As we age, we are at higher risk of dementia, the progressive cognitive function decline, particularly Alzheimer”s disease.  One of the latest studies  on the effects of physical exercise on the mental health of seniors was conducted by researchers at the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility at Vancouver Coastal Health and the University of British Columbia. The study shows that exercise, specifically resistance-training, can significantly slow down the mental decline in seniors. The exercise program particularly improves the conflict resolution, process of selective attention and associative memory. The results of the study show that resistance training improves cognitive performance and brain function even for people who are at the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. This means that it is never too late to start.

An older, 2006 study  found that cardiovascular (aerobic) fitness prevents shrinking of brain tissue in aging people and it plays important role in maintaining and improving central nervous system health and cognitive functioning.


How to start?

If you never did more than occasional game of golf or tennis, your exercise program has to start with the visit to the doctor. Your doctor will tell you what you can do and what you should avoid. There is an exercise program for just about anyone, so even if you are in a wheelchair, there is a special program for you. Just do it.

You can find out about different exercise programs from the internet, but the best place to start is your neighborhood Y or gym. Talk to the trainer, check the programs they have and see what arethe prices. Many will allow you to try different options to see what you enjoy most.


What are the options?

Our grandparents never did any exercise, and stayed thin and healthy until they died of old age. Just look at the old photos: nobody was fat. Your grandma got up at dawn, cooked, cleaned, washed, tended animals, gardened, swept and in general rarely stopped until going to bed at night. Fortunately, our life is much easier, but just keeping the house clean and garden tended can give you stretching and strength exercises you need. Walking your dog two times a day and playing ball with grandkids can be considered your cardiovascular exercise.

For those of you who want to do it just right, there are four types of exercises recommended by the organization

Cardio endurance exercise

Cardiovascular exercise increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to our body, removes waste, gets heart pumping,  and it uses large muscle groups in rhythmic motion. It reduces shortness of breath and fatigue. With cardiovascular exercises, you work on maintaining your independence by increasing your endurance.  You will have more energy for regular activities you enjoy.

Walking, climbing stairs, hiking, swimming, cycling, dancing, rowing and playing tennis are all cardio exercises.

Strength training

Strength training builds up muscles using weights or resistance from body weight, elastic bands or machines.  It helps prevent bone mass loss, builds muscles, and improves balance. Strength training can help you to avoid falling and hurting yourself. Strong muscles allow you to do many things yourself and maintain your independence.


Flexibility exercises improve ability of your joints to move easily through a full range of motion. They can be completed through stretching – statically – or by moving and bouncing.

Flexible joints and muscles are less prone to injury, and enable you to keep doing all you are used to, from washing your hair to driving.


Balance exercises help you to be able to stand and move with confidence and avoid falling and breaking bones. The best exercises for improving balance are yoga and Tai Chi.

Now that you know what is available and what are the benefits, get off your sofa, forget the TV remote and get going. To get motivated, talk your best friend or neighbor into doing it with you. Get some pretty clothes and comfortable shoes and take your health and your well-being in your hands. Now if only you could convince your grown kids to do something about their fitness too.


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