The Importance of Physical Exercise as we Age
As we age, one of the most important things we can do to maintain our health is exercise. Physical activity has a strong influence on how you feel, the kinds of activities you can do and can even prevent or slow down health problems that develop as you age. Incorporating exercise into a healthy lifestyle can make a world of a difference. Even if you think you are “too old” to be active or if you have existing health problems, exercise can still offer health benefits that will improve the quality of your life.
What happens as we age?
A lot of changes happen in our bodies as we age, but one of the most common changes is a gradual slowdown of our metabolism, or the speed at which the body consumes energy. As a result, we need less food because the body does not burn through calories as quickly as it used to. Exercise can help speed up your metabolism and burn off the extra calories the body does not need. This can ultimately prevent the weight gain that extra calories would cause.
A family history of diseases or health problems can also affect the body as we age. For example, if someone in your family has high blood pressure, your odds of developing it as well are higher than someone without a family history. Being physically active, along with maintaining a healthy lifestyle, helps lower that risk.
Do different exercises have different benefits?
Not all physical activity has the same effects. Here are some specific benefits you can get by doing different kinds of exercises:
- Strength Training: Building your strength helps you maintain muscle mass and keep your bones strong, including your knees and joints. Exercises like weight lifting make your muscles stronger, making it easier to lift heavier objects and pick things up with ease.
- Balance: Working on your balance leads to better posture, improves coordination and helps prevent falls. This might be a subtle benefit, but it can make a major difference as you do various errands and activities throughout your day.
- Aerobics: This helps keep your heart strong and can give you more energy to take on your day. Aerobics also helps you fall asleep quicker at night which can increases the amount of sleep you get.
- Stretching and Flexibility: These exercises affect your joints and muscles, helping you move and function easier. Things as simple as tying your shoes or reaching high shelves become can become less of a challenge. Building flexibility can help improve your steps as you walk and lower your odds of falling.
I’m ready to get active. How can I get started?
Before starting any kind of exercise, you should consult your doctor to gauge what exercises are right for you and to see if there are any health problems that could prevent you from taking on certain kinds of activity. PIH Health Internal Medicine specialist Antonio E. Escobedo MD recommends that you do not push yourself too far too quickly: “It’s absolutely normal to feel tired, sore, or stiff when you first start an exercise program. If you feel pain, the safest thing to do is to stop and talk to your doctor before it causes an injury.” As you start an exercise program, take it slow. Aim for 5 or 10 minutes of physical activity and work to build your comfort and endurance before increasing that time.
By being physically active as you age, you can enjoy a bounty of health benefits. Exercise is not just important for physical fitness, it also affects how much you can get out of your day and can add years to your life.