Exercise is important for seniors because it builds bone density, larger and stronger muscles, better balance, keeps you independent at your home, and many more aspects of life that I will share with you in the below article.
I work with older adults, seniors, elderly, whichever term you want to use, on a daily basis and I’ve had this conversation 100’s of times.
It’s a fact that people in their 60s and beyond who exercise regularly, including aerobic (walking, cycling, elliptical) and resistance training, live healthier for longer and stay independent all the way to the end of their life (usually).
Read on for all of the different ways that exercise can help, you.
Exercise Builds Bone Density for Seniors
As you get older, your bones get a bit more brittle. This is a natural aging process that we cannot turn off.
What we can do though is we can continue to put stress through the bone and utilize Wolfs law to deposit more bone via osteoblasts.
When you exercise, particularly with resistance training, stress is placed on certain portions of the bone. This stress response signals to the molecules called osteoblasts that more bone needs to be placed in the area of more stress.
You can think of this as adding more and more layers of tape to the surface. Even though the surface is initially weakened, it becomes very strong due to the increased surface area and tension that the tape then creates.
Maybe a better example is that osteoblasts act like cocking for sealing different areas in your house. If there is a spot in the shower that has a leak or it is exposed, cocking completely fills in that space and ensures that there is greater integrity. Bone does the same thing. It grows into and over areas of weakness and makes them stronger so they can handle the load that is placed upon them.
Exercise Builds Larger and Stronger Muscles
You probably knew this already but let me share with you how this happens and why you want to maximize this.
After around age 35-40 you start to lose 1% of muscle mass per year, potentially more depending on several factors.
Once you’ve reached age 65, if you haven’t been strength training, you could have lost 30% of your muscle mass without even realizing it. This is why so many people ‘all of sudden,’ have trouble getting up from a chair, from the floor, from the toilet, etc.
It happens very slowly and then all at once.
This is predictable, it’s a completely known quality, yet people often do nothing about it. It’s human nature to wait until the problem is so large that they must address it.
The good news is that if you start strength training now, regardless of your age you can make humongous improvements in your muscle mass and strength of your muscles. You want to maximize this as much as possible as this is the key to maintaining your independence for the rest of your life.
It’s better if you start in your 20’s, but even if you don’t start until you are 65, 70, 80, or even 90, there is still time to make huge improvements. You can still make progress and gain muscle throughout your entire lifespan.
Exercise Improves Balance in Seniors
Not only does exercise improve muscle mass and bone density, but it also improves balance.
Balance has many components which I’ve alluded to in other articles, but a large component of it is related to strength and speed of movement.
As you lose muscle mass through aging, your fast-twitch muscle fibers also start to convert to slow-twitch muscle fibers.
This can be slowed largely by lifting heavy weights and practicing moving quickly. In order to fully activate type II muscle fibers we must be exerting the muscles maximally. This can be done with light or heavy weights but you must push very close to muscular failure for this to occur.
Exercise Improves Circulation and Cardiovascular Health
Exercise has a tremendously positive effect on the heart and supporting vascular systems. It reduces the amount and prevents atherosclerotic plaques, which in turn helps to control blood pressure, which reduces your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other not-so-fun pathologies.
The American Academy recommendations for exercise are 30 minutes, 5 times per week of moderate aerobic activity and 2x/week of resistance training (lifting weights, strength training).
Exercise Improves Cognition and Reduces Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s
This has been making the news recently that if you want to reduce your risk of cognitive decline, namely dementia and Alzheimer’s that exercise can be one of the strongest protectors against that.
Exercise Reduces Cancer and Diabetes Risk
Exercise helps to keep us at a healthier body weight which in turn reduces our cancer risk. There are likely other mechanisms at play as well. Additionally, diabetes risk decreases too, as there is greater regulation of blood sugars as a direct result of exercise.
Exercise Reduces High Blood Pressure
There is also great data to show the effect that exercise has on blood pressure levels. Attaining a blood pressure of 120/80 or a bit lower helps to reduce your risk of stroke and other cardiovascular-related conditions.
Exercise Will Help Keep You Independent And Out of A Nursing Home
And the thing that most of my clients tell me is, “I don’t want to be in a nursing home!”
Well, in that case, get to exercising and you’ll likely stave this off or prevent it from happening in the first place. If you need help knowing where to start with exercise you can just read this other article I wrote.
Exercise helps in these key areas:
- Increases bone density and muscle mass
- Improves balance
- Improves circulation
- Reduces dementia and Alzheimers risk
- Reduces cancer risk and diabetes risk
- Reduces high blood pressure
- Keeps you healthier longer and keeps you out of a nursing home!