As we all know, exercise is crucial in our daily routines to keep ourselves in tip-top shape. But why? Staying healthy isn’t only about eating a well-balanced diet. Exercise benefits seniors in ways that can be much more than a slim waistline and strong muscles. The development of our bodies, our mental well-being, and even our organ and bone strength can all be positively impacted when we regularly work out. Below, we’ve spoken to physical therapists to break down the many ways exercise can enhance our daily lives and create more ease with age.
Increases Cardiovascular Strength
Whether you’re participating in cardio exercises (such as running and swimming) or strength training (such as lifting and resistance), exercise benefits seniors by improving their endurance level. This means simple movements such as climbing stairs, doing household chores, or performing your favorite hobbies will be easy to keep up with as you age. “[The] addition of exercise into your routine will greatly improve your cardiovascular performance by strengthening your heart and reducing overall blood pressure, leading to inclines of endurance and energy levels,” says physical therapist Kristen Wilson.
Reduces Risk of Dementia
Regular exercise delivers oxygen to and removes unnecessary waste from our muscles and organs. One area in particular, the brain, benefits immensely from this process. According to Wilson, by maintaining adequate blood flow to the brain, your body removes harmful waste products. These can hinder memory, processing, and standard problem solving over time, ultimately leading to dementia.
Improves Bone Health
By focusing on weight training and muscle-strengthening exercises (which require our bones to do more work), we can reduce the risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia. When faced with greater demand, our bones respond, Wilson says. “[They] create and build more bone, according to a process referred to as Wolff’s law.”
Makes You Happier
To quote Legally Blonde, “Endorphins make you happy!” Believe it or not, Elle Woods is right. Health benefits seniors by releasing endorphins into the brain and reducing depression. These ultimately increase your mood. As we age, it can be common to experience a form of depression due to changing schedules or feeling a loss of purpose after retiring and not working. By exercising, the body releases natural chemicals (endorphins) to lighten your mood and create a sense of happiness. This is a healthier solution than over-the-counter medicine. Wilson also recommends surrounding yourself with other motivated individuals. “Utilize more of a group atmosphere when it comes to fitness (group classes, fitness buddy, personal training). It improves mood by enhancing opportunities for socialization.” she says.
Prevents Unwanted Falls
Experiencing a fall can be one of the most detrimental accidents as we grow older. “Fractures, head trauma, and loss of function or mobility are all potential complications that can be caused by a fall,” says Jimmy McKay, a physical therapist at FOX Rehabilitation. Engage in more balance-centric and flexibility exercises with increasing age, such as yoga or Pilates. In doing so, the body learns how to react to prevent a fall and how to fall the right way. McKay says he believes there’s a big focus on balance training in children. Unfortunately, these skills and learning practices can be neglected as we age. But they’re just as important.
Helps Flexibility and Range of Motion
If we don’t use it, we’ll most certainly lose it. This 100 percent applies to our flexibility and range of motion. According to McKay, “There are four phases of degeneration that progress naturally as we age. Exercise is a major intervention to slow this process down. If a joint cannot move through its normal range, it will limit the amount of activity that can be done.” This includes, but is not limited to, putting dishes in the cupboard or washing your hair. Additionally, the body will negatively compensate for a loss of range of motion. It will rely on another body part to pick up the slack. A secondary body part that may experience the additional weight or force is the neck. This, if left overworked, could lead to additional complications and further accelerate degenerative changes.
Supports Better Sleep
Regular exercise can help us fall asleep faster because of the fluctuations of body temperature during and post-workout. It also helps initiate a deeper sleep, resulting in waking up feeling refreshed and with more energy. This aspect of exercise benefits seniors because, as we age, body systems tend to slow down. Sleeping well can help keep cognitive and physical functioning (such as concentration, standard movements, and memory) at optimal levels throughout the day, resulting in a reduced risk of injury.