Even though most fitness commercials show young people engaged in physical activity, the reality is that older adults may benefit even more from exercise. The benefits stack up in both the physical and psychological areas, and they also add to seniors' day-to-day functionality and overall quality of life.
Exercise reduces everyone's risk of cardiovascular ailments such as high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke. For older adults, this reduced risk is especially important. Exercise also decreases the risk of Type 2 diabetes and colon cancer.
People who are already suffering from chronic conditions such as arthritis that make life difficult are often grateful for the increased stamina and strength they gain from exercising. Many people with arthritis also find that exercise helps minimize their arthritis pain. As bones become more brittle with age and the loss of bone density, weight-bearing exercise helps joints and bones stay strong and healthy.
Exercise increases brain chemicals that put you in a good mood. It also reduces anxiety and depression. Regular physical exercise, even at a moderate level, helps older adults handle stress better.
In addition, because exercise increases blood flow to the brain, it helps your brain stay sharp as you age. Regular exercise may even help inhibit the development of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. In particular, exercise helps with mental functions such as planning and the ability to multitask.
Quality of Life
Not only does exercise keep you physically and mentally healthier, but it also helps you heal faster when you're injured or ill. Studies show that older adults who exercise heal up to 25 percent more quickly than those who don't. The combination of improved physical function with the psychological and emotional benefits of exercise work together to create greater quality of life overall. In addition, studies show that seniors who exercise enjoy a longer life expectancy.
The Risks of Inactivity
If you choose to take it easy as you age, or if you're concerned that starting an exercise program may be too difficult, you run the risk of losing certain functions. The ability to climb stairs, carry heavy packages or keep up with your kids or grandchildren is dependent on staying physically fit.
In addition, seniors who don't stay active typically require more visits to the doctors and experience more illness. They also end up hospitalized more often. Because the ability to balance is part of physical fitness, seniors who stay fit have a reduced risk of falling and breaking bones.
Seniors who want to start exercising should start off slowly. Remember, any physical activity is beneficial. Taking a walk or working in the garden counts as physical activity and doesn't require a pricey gym membership or special equipment. Even moderate amounts of exercise or physical activity — as little as 10 minutes a day — can be beneficial to older adults if it's done consistently.
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