Staying Active As We Age
“I’m too old to start exercising.” “Exercise is boring.” “I’m too tired.” These are just some of the excuses people use to avoid staying (or becoming) physically active as they grow older. And like most excuses, they’re easily refuted. Staying active as we age is crucial to maintaining several aspects of physical, mental, and emotional health.
How to Stay Active Later In Life
Let’s start with the obvious excuse: age itself. You can definitely begin a fitness program after age 60, according to the well-respected Cleveland Clinic. “The benefits of exercise far outweigh the fear of getting started,” says Director of Sports Health and Orthopedic Rehabilitation Gary Calabrese.
Exercise “increases mobility, balance, reduces chronic conditions, helps you lose weight and increases lean muscle mass. It also improves sleep.”
If all these qualities were ascribed to a new medication, we’d no doubt consider it a miracle pill. So to stay active in older age, the most important step is to begin.
First, be sure to get the green light from your physician, especially if you have any existing health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or arthritis. At The Kensington Sierra Madre, we provide an onsite physician’s office, with regular office hours.
Why It’s Important for Seniors to Stay Active
What about feeling too tired to exercise? You may be surprised to learn that exercise will actually give you more energy, not less. A study published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics Journal found that inactive people who normally complained of fatigue could increase energy up to 20 percent while decreasing fatigue by as much as 65 percent, simply by participating in a regular, low-intensity exercise program.
Staying active boosts brain health as well. Research shows that physical activity helps to counteract cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia. At the same time, it increases psychological well-being and enhances mood — a better option than taking additional medications.
Regular exercise even helps your skin look younger by boosting the formation of collagen, the structural protein found in connective tissue. It’s a natural facelift, without cosmetic surgery.
Perhaps most crucially, regular weight-bearing exercise will strengthen your bones, which will help prevent falls. Approximately a third of those 65 and older fall every year, and almost half of those who take a tumble will fall again within a year. At least ten percent of seniors who fall will sustain a fracture.
Even if a senior doesn’t break a bone, once someone has fallen, the fear of falling becomes internalized. Repeated falls can lead to social withdrawal, anxiety, and depression.
How Much Exercise Does A Senior Need?
Now that we’ve established how exercise benefits you regardless of age and energy level, it’s time to select a type — and appropriate amount — of exercise. There’s no need to train for a marathon unless this interests you. And exercise doesn’t have to be boring! Choose a form of exercise you enjoy, such as water aerobics, walking, yoga, or dancing, for example.
At The Kensington Sierra Madre, enjoyable exercise is a cornerstone of exceptional senior living. We offer classes in many of these areas, some of which combine the best of both worlds for senior health and fitness, such as balance yoga and Defying Gravity.
Start slowly, and monitor your progress. Exercise is about consistency, not excess. “You have to fit you to the program and not the program to you,” advises Cleveland Clinic’s Calabrese.
The Best Exercises for Seniors
As with anything in life, the “best” exercise for a senior is a very individual matter, which is one reason The Kensington Sierra Madre offers a full schedule of activities, and health and fitness programs, for our senior living residents to choose among.
According to SilverSneakers, a health and fitness program for those 65+, the nine best types of exercise for older adults are:
- Bodyweight training
- Resistance-band training
- Strength and aerobic classes
- Personal training with a fitness trainer
We do want to emphasize the importance of balance as we age. You may be familiar with the chestnut coined by Founding Father Alexander Hamilton: “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.” He wasn’t referring to elder balance, but his wise words are apt because maintaining strong bones and good balance are crucial for fall prevention and overall health.
One concerned man said of his loved one, “I have had to catch or steady my 98-year-old mother-in-law several times and make it a point of staying close by when she is walking…even when she has a cane in her hand. Many older people feel they do not need to use their walkers in their own homes, or forget to use any aid and hold onto the walls or furniture, or reach up without support. That is when many falls occur.”
He is spot on. As we discussed in Staying Strong and Agile As We Age, over half of those age 80 and older fall every year. Even if a senior falls and is uninjured, if someone can’t get back on their feet, they’re in trouble.
Brisk walking remains one of the best exercises for seniors, according to new research, which found that fast walkers 60 and older reduced their cardiovascular risk by 53 percent. Fast walking also eliminates the stress that jogging imposes on older bones and joints.
As with other forms of exercise, a brisk walk:
- Builds bone mineral density
- Improves concentration and memory
- Helps seniors sleep better
- Enhances mood and relaxation
Fitter Than A Fiddle
Staying in shape has benefits beyond fall prevention, regardless of age. Consider these two examples:
A geriatrician developed adult-onset diabetes in his fifties due to excess weight and a sedentary lifestyle — even though he counseled his senior patients to live healthfully.
After a life-threatening motorcycle crash, which necessitated protracted time in bed, he lost 70 pounds and began an intensive physical therapy program to regain the use of his limbs — the combination of which reversed his diabetes. Now in his sixties, he’s healthier than he’s been in decades, with a renewed appreciation for life and health.
Or consider the man who had a heart attack at age 60 — a wake-up call that led him to build and sail his own boat. After 14 years of construction, Warwick Tompkins and his wife Nancy set sail, cruising for a decade before returning home. Now 87, Tompkins plans to put to sea again.
Clearly, exercise is a mainstay of healthful and enjoyable senior living. And our digital age is streaming bionic breakthroughs to make it easier to track the benefits of elder exercise.
The Benefits of Exercise for Older Adults
British researchers have developed an AI-based algorithm that learns new types of activity as they occur, enabling a wearable “to differentiate between walking, running, sitting, standing, cycling, even brushing one’s teeth or preparing dinner.”
This tool could make activity tracking more precise, and useful as part of a remote monitoring program. Device makers such as Apple and Fitbit have been slowly bridging this gap with fitness bands and smartwatches that track more activities and vital signs and sync them with care management apps.
Whether or not you’re a fan of the latest fitness trackers, the benefits of physical exercise for older adults are clear. By staying active as you age, you will:
- Maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints
- Reduce the risk of falling and fracturing bones
- Control the joint swelling and pain associated with arthritis
- Reduce your chances of developing coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes
- Improve your stamina and muscle strength
- Alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Improve your mood and feelings of well-being
We look forward to meeting you, and to introduce you to the extensive life enrichment activities and events The Kensington Sierra Madre offers to keep you as busy and involved as you choose to be.