I regularly talk about the benefits of exercise. I’m not breaking any new ground with that information. Everyone knows that exercise is good for you. I think it’s also widely known that exercise becomes even more critical to health as we age. T hen, why aren’t we older folks engaging in regular, moderately vigorous exercise? The explanations I encounter among non-exercisers can be mostly lumped into three bundles: physical limitations, time constraints and/ or a belief that they are already sufficiently active. Usually this belies some measure of self-indulgence but, regardless, it is just flat-out incorrect.
Consider a couple of common health struggles and the practical benefits of exercise for older adults. Falls are the single most likely cause of hospitalization due to injury in older adults. And hospitals are, statistically speaking, perhaps the worst place to find yourself if you are older. Exercise dramatically reduces the likelihood of falls and improves the outcome in the event of a fall. There’s a ton of data out there on the positive impact of exercise to muscle mass, bone mineral density and our proprioceptive performance (balance). I think we are all generally aware of the rise in dementia and Alzheimer’s cases. However, I was surprised to find that researchers now suspect these terrible diseases are, when all factors are considered, the No. 1 cause of death in older adults. What I don’t find, though, is most people connecting brain health to regular exercise. The reality is that regular exercise is your best shot at delaying, if not avoiding, the cognitive impairment that presents when these conditions advance. Vascular dementia, for example, is tied to circulatory deficiencies. Researchers continue to unravel the mechanisms of these ailments. A very recent exercise study identified increased brain activity in areas associated with memory and learning, resulting in increased glucose uptake. Food for thought! T here are numerous measurable benefits derived from regular exercise, and these benefits positively impact our quality of life. However, the two issues I raised, falls and dementia, should be compelling reasons by themselves to get out there and start exercising. Seems to me, as they say, a no-brainer. A sIsaidattheoutset,weknowexercise is good for us. Yet we usually have some broadly defined deterrent keeping us from doing what’s in our best interest. True physical limitations, or even merely aches and pains, can be a daunting challenge to one’s motivation to get exercising.
I don’t know your story. I do know that if you’re still breathing, there is something you can be doing to improve your physical wellbeing. A physical limitation is not a legitimate deterrent.
Folks who declare that there is not enough time in the day to exercise obviously live on a planet with a shorter day. If you live on planet Earth, there is enough time to exercise. How do you not have the time management skills to wrest a half an hour out of your schedule when there are 47 other half hours remaining? “Not enough time” is bunk. A nd then there’s my last group—people who assert they’re sufficiently active. Well, they’re not. This is the bulk of my peer group here. This is generally an outdoorsy bunch. They work a lot, move regularly, have considerable social interactions and are not considered particularly sedentary. This group tends toward a self-confident complacency, which is understandable when witnessing the extreme lifestyle-related health challenges of others every day. The short retort I have for this group is, “It’s not enough!” W hile it is common sense that the “mildly active” are better off than the “completely inactive,” science tells us that we need to elevate our heart rate and engage in weight-bearing activities five days per week. We need both aerobic and strengthrelated activities. If you are not exercising, you are not accomplishing these requirements.
So, get a workout video, join a gym, go to a class, hire a trainer, enlist a friend, get out there and play! Whatever you need to do, whatever works for you, get going. Set a schedule and stick with it. Be consistent. Exercise 30 minutes at an intensity level where you feel like you are working. Start slowly and progress to more. We all know the benefits of regular exercise. Now consider the cost if you don’t.
Consult with your healthcare professional before starting any weight loss or exercise program.
Tom Duffy is the owner of Good Sports Fitness, a wellness, fitness and athletic conditioning business based in Babbitt, MN. He can be contacted at email@example.com.