Exercise and Aging: Must-Knows and Benefits

Our bodies are miraculous organisms that can adapt easily, and our rapid development as a species is down to this intrinsic physical ability. Adaptation is also what allows to benefit from the act of exercise even as we get older. And, guess what? You’re never too old to get moving. In fact, even if you’ve lived a predominantly sedentary lifestyle your entire life, you’ll reap substantial results and improve your quality of life well into old age.

So what is the correlation between exercise and aging?

Why exercise is important as we age

Apart from obviously helping to increase life expectancy, regular exercise can significantly delay age-related conditions. As we age, the body can expect to experience a host of ailments from bone density degeneration (osteoporosis) to deterioration of muscle mass (sarcopenia). These two conditions naturally occur as we age, but before you start shopping for a walker quite yet, we’ve got some good news for you. Plenty of research has revealed that exercising will not only slow down such age-related issues, but it can actually reverse their painful and life-altering impact.

If you’re in your thirties and think there’s quite some time before you need to concern yourself with matters such as exercise and aging, think again. At the risk of sounding like the bearer of bad news, these degenerative conditions can begin to take place as early as thirty, with adults over that age expected to lose half a pound of muscle mass each year on average every year onwards.

However, despite this, there are ways to offset these effects. Yup, you guessed it, our good friend — exercise. Here are a few other age-related conditions that exercise will help stave off.

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Arthritis

Supporting your musculoskeletal system by working out goes a long way to fight arthritis by strengthening joints, muscles, and tendons. I’ve had first-hand experience in the past, when training clients who initially weren’t able to run for years due to the debilitating pain of arthritis, then within months of strength training, were able to not only run again but regain the level of activity they had in their youth. Bet you’re looking at those barbells with new eyes right?

Strength and coordination

Many inevitable physical changes take place when we age, and a reduction in muscle mass is one of them. Believed to be the result of our body’s limited ability to synthesize protein as we get older, loss of muscle mass impacts our balance, strength, and coordination. There’s even a direct correlation between a sarcopenia-based decline in muscle mass and cardiovascular fitness levels — heart health.

Cognitive ability

Exercise is just as important to your brain as it is your muscles and bones. Cognitive decline is a real issue as the body ages, as many of you might have already experienced with an elderly relative or parent. While often this winding down of cognitive abilities is preprogrammed in our DNA, many studies have evidenced the benefits of exercise on aging brains and their respective function. In addition to improvement of cognition, staying physically active well into old age can help counteract symptoms of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

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Tone it up or tone it down with age?

Ramping up or ramping down your level of physical activity when older very much depends on the type of lifestyle you’ve lead thus far and can vary drastically from person to person. With that said, my general response is it’s best to tone down the level of exercise intensity as you age. This is relative to the capacity to which your body can perform.

Take your heart, for instance, it too is a type of muscle (cardiac muscle) and has been working hard for your entire life, pumping blood through your circulatory system. When it comes to exercise and aging, as the body gets older, the heart tends to work less effectively; meaning that the younger you are the harder your heart can work. Your target heart rate zones decrease as you age.

Best exercise for aging muscles

As you approach old age, it’s best to shift your focus towards health-related, preventative exercise and veer away from aesthetically motivated training. The good news is that you’ll still reap those aesthetic rewards even when focusing solely on your health. So, with health in mind let’s look at the things that you should be lending your attention to.

Balance in your workout routine is imperative, and I advise incorporating the following four pillars of fitness into your routine each week: Cardiovascular/pulmonary training, resistance training, flexibility training and neuromotor training.

Here, you may want to concentrate on areas you find more challenging as well as put an emphasis on resistance training if you haven’t already.

Preserving muscle mass should be at the top of your list as you age, with weight training  (specific hypertrophy training) being a large part of your weekly exercise routine. Building muscle mass through this type of training is going to be your number one defense to help push associated with it. Low-rep, high-load resistance workouts are more beneficial for the aged than low-weight, high-rep ones.

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Neuromotor training has also shown to have a good effect on the elderly. Activities such as yoga and Tai chi or even simple strolls can have a positive impact on balance in seniors, helping to prevent slips and falls. This is really important as the number one cause of injury or loss of independence (living alone) has been credited to such accidents.

Word of advice:
Of course, before undertaking any new exercise routine or training plan, we always advise that you check-in with a primary medical practitioner, especially if you have any underlying or pre-existing health conditions.

It’s never too late to get started

For those of you are already working out, well-done folks, you’re doing your body a huge favor. But what if up until now you’ve rarely if ever exercised and are wondering if it’s worth even starting at this point in your life. My answer is a resounding YES! I’ll also go as far and say that exercise is almost a miracle remedy in battling age-related health issues. Its proven to be effective, it’s free and best of all, the only side effects are a healthier version of you.