Can Exercise Prevent or Reverse Aging? Science Says Yes.
It seems nearly everyone is looking for that fountain of youth. But while there’s no way to avoid growing older, it’s becoming increasingly clear that seniors who manage to remain fit and active into their later years are much better positioned to fight the ravages of Father Time than those who live a more sedentary lifestyle.
Exercising right for older adults – Stay strong as you get older.
More and more studies are pointing to exercise and fitness as an effective antidote to aging.
In March 2018, for example, researchers from the University of Birmingham and Kings College London reported that older people who had exercised all of their lives appeared to defy the aging process and exhibited immunity, muscle mass, and cholesterol levels more commonly seen in younger people.
Similar findings came out of Indiana’s Ball State University last December, where researchers observed that the muscles of active older men not only compared favorably to those of 25-year-olds but were also able to better withstand inflammatory damage than those of sedentary older people.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a life-long athlete to reap the benefits of exercise. In fact, research recently published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology suggests older people who embark on a program of regular exercise can build muscle mass just as effectively as their younger counterparts – even if they’ve never worked out before
How to Get Started on an Exercise Program
So clearly, it’s never too late to start exercising – no matter your age.
However, it is best to start out slow. And to ensure an effective and safe workout, consider consulting with a doctor, working with a trainer, or both.
“Many adults just don’t know where to start with strength training or exercise in general,” Morgan Nolte, Ph.D., a specialist in geriatric physical therapy from Nebraska, told HealthLine News.
“They know it’s good for them but are fearful of getting hurt, especially if they have a preexisting condition — which is common in older adults — like high blood pressure, back pain, or a joint replacement,” she continued.
Because the formerly sedentary may find exercise overwhelming or intimidating, it’s also important to keep workouts simple – at least early on. In fact, beginners are more likely to stick to a program if they don’t have to spend an hour in the gym, invest in a pricy fitness tracker, or learn a complicated new exercise routine.
And remember, hours-long workout sessions aren’t necessary. In fact, studies have shown that three 10-minute stints of exercise have the same benefits as one continuous 30-minute session.
Finally, keep it consistent. Most people, including seniors, are more likely to continue exercising if fitness becomes a normal part of their daily routine. Once an exercise is a habit, duration, intensity, and type can all be adjusted accordingly.
The Best Exercise Programs for Older Adults
According to the National Council on Aging, most experts recommend that seniors aim for:
- Moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes five days a week.
- Muscle-strengthening activities for two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.
Unfortunately, statistics indicate less than 1/3 of those 65 and older meet this recommendation.
Like anyone else, seniors are more likely to stick with an exercise program when they’re participating in activities they actually enjoy. Some to consider include:
- Swimming: Swimming is considered the “perfect” exercise because it increases cardiovascular fitness and strengthens muscles while placing minimal stress on bones and joints. A 2012 study in the Journal of Aging Research also suggests that swimming helps seniors keep their minds sharp. Those who can’t stomach the thought of swimming laps across the pool might want to consider water aerobics.
- Yoga: A yoga-based fitness program will help build muscle strength, aerobic fitness, core stability, and total-body mobility. And like swimming, it’s easy on the bones and joints. Those new to yoga should opt for an introductory program that focuses on the basics and discuss any physical limitations with the instructor before getting started.
- Pilates: Pilates is a low-impact exercise program that focuses on core stability. In 2014, an analysis published in the European Review of Aging and Physical Activity concluded that Pilates participation also improves balance in older adults. Beginners should focus on introductory classes – especially those interested in using a piece of Pilates equipment called a reformer.
- Bodyweight Training: Chair squats, single-leg stands, wall pushups, and stair climbing are a great way to keep muscles strong and fit without investing in a set of weights or a gym membership.
Resistance Band Workouts: Resistance bands are inexpensive and can challenge muscles in ways that might not be possible with equipment-free strength training. They’re also perfect for both home workouts and beginners.
- Walking: Walking is a great – and free – way to get fit and stay healthy. In fact, research published in PLOS One found that people who increased their activity levels to 10,000 steps per day were 46% less likely to die in the following 10 years compared to those who stayed sedentary. While 10,000 steps might not be the right number for some older adults or those coping with chronic conditions, any amount of walking will have a positive impact on health.
- Cycling: A 2017 analysis in the European Review of Aging and Physical Activity found that cycling helps improve cardiovascular health, metabolic health, and cognitive performance in adults older than 70. Consider regular outdoor bike rides with family or friends, or an indoor stationary bike when the weather won’t cooperate or safe trails aren’t accessible.
- Group Exercise Classes for Seniors: From Zumba to boot camp, Silver Sneakers, and other popular programs offer great group exercise classes specifically designed for those 65 and older. According to research published in a 2017 issue of BMC Public Health, the social aspect of group exercise actually increases activity levels in older adults over the long term.
How to Stay Motivated
Whatever the activity, older adults can stay motivated by focusing on short-term goals, like improving their energy level or reducing stress, rather than weight loss, which takes longer to achieve. Using a logbook to record each workout – and each met goal – will help seniors chart their progress and hold themselves accountable.
Rewarding oneself – for example, indulging in a favorite cup of coffee or taking a relaxing hot bath — after a workout can make exercising a little more enjoyable.
Finally, enlisting a friend or family member as a workout buddy will ensure a ready source of companionship, encouragement, and support whenever motivation lags.