It’s no secret that regular exercise is one of the most important components to good health at every age. But what you may not know is just how powerful keeping fit can be, especially after 50 years of age. Recent research shows the effects of moving, or not moving, on your body are more profound than scientists ever imagined. Not only can the right type and amount of regular exercise prevent or improve uncomfortable age-related symptoms such as joint pain, sleep problems and menopausal symptoms, but it also can improve or prevent the most common chronic diseases, and add many quality years to your life.
Improves Quality of Life
In the past, the cardiovascular system was thought to receive most of the benefits of exercise. But, research over the last several decades has revealed that your entire body is positively influenced by exercise. The metabolic changes caused by movement are profound. They affect your entire body in many ways including balancing your hormones, and regulating your genes. In fact, exercise is now recognized as being absolutely essential for your good health, quality of life, and longevity.
Here are a few ways regular exercise improves your quality of life:
- Reduces stress
- Promotes a healthy weight
- Elevates mood, alleviates depression
- Improves cognitive function
- Decreases joint pain and stiffness
- Alleviates menopausal symptoms
- Encourages better sleep
Prevents or Improves Chronic Diseases
The myriad of beneficial physiological changes associated with regular exercise also powerfully prevents and/or improves a variety of common chronic diseases including asthma, mild emphysema, back problems, arthritis, glaucoma, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, several types of cancer, and neuro-degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Let’s take a look at a few examples of chronic diseases and the effects of exercise.
Heart Disease: A study published in the British Medical Journal found that women who committed to regular brisk walks raised their levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol and reduced their incidence of heart attacks by over 50 percent.
Diabetes: A review of 10 studies published in Diabetes Care in 2007 found that physical activity of moderate intensity, such as brisk walking, substantially reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes in both men and women.
Researchers have shown that exercise causes the production a protein called “brain-derived neurotrophic factor,” which improves the function of neurons, encourages their growth, and strengthens and protects them against the natural process of cell death. Studies show physical activity also improves blood flow to the brain and appears to delay the accumulation of plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Cancer: A 2002 Canadian study reviewed 170 studies of physical activity and cancer risk and found that regular exercise significantly reduced the risk of breast and colon cancers. Researchers hypothesized that exercise may decrease the risk of these cancers by the positive changes it causes in sexual and metabolic hormones, growth factors, and immune function, as well as decreasing obesity and belly fat.
Slows Down Aging and Lengthens Lifespan
Those who exercise regularly tend to enjoy a much longer life too. The reason doesn’t just come from preventing deaths from chronic diseases. Scientists believe it also has something to do with the fact that movement affects the segment on the end of your chromosomes, called telomeres, that directly relates to lifespan. As you age, your telomeres become shorter. An enzyme called telomerase slows down the shortening of the telomeres and preserves their length, which has been shown to support a longer life. Exercise increases the production of telomerase and keeps your telomeres longer.
On the other hand, not moving is so detrimental to your longevity it has as much negative influence as smoking does! For instance, a 1996 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found those who are sedentary are three times more likely to die of any cause.
How Much and What Kind is Best
Experts agree that a combination of aerobic exercise, strength training and stretching movements such as yoga are ideal. At least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week, along with 30 minutes of strength training two days a week, and mild stretching every day is considered the minimum for staying in good shape. If you can do more, the results are even better. However, be cautious not over-exercise! Too much exercise can cause damage to your body. Researchers have found extreme athletes, for example marathon runners and triathletes, can develop a type of heart damage called fibrosis and other degenerative problems.
If you can’t get the recommended amount of exercise, it’s important to know that any movement of your body is better than none at all. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2014 which followed 55,000 people over 15 years found that as little as five minutes a day of jogging at a slow pace lowered the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 45%! But, The American Heart Association stresses that a minimum of 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise 5 times a week should still be your goal.
The Peril of Sitting Too Much
No matter how much you exercise it is important to not sit too much! A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that compared to those who sit less than four hours a day, those who sit more than four hours a day are significantly more likely to have a chronic disease including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. The University of Sydney, School of Public Health followed 200,000 adults ages 45 and older for three years. Those who sat eleven hours or more a day were 40 percent more likely to die than people who sat fewer than four hours.
Tips to Keep Moving
Ideally you want to stay in motion as much as possible during each day. Here are ten tips that can help you get enough exercise in every day even if you don’t think you have the time:
- If you work at a desk, get up every 30 minutes and move.
- Park your car in the spot that is furthest away
- Take the stairs whenever you can
- Don’t aim to exercise, play a sport instead
- Find an exercise buddy
- Chose a variety of activities to keep you from getting bored—for example, tennis, dancing, classes at the gym, biking, hiking or brisk walking
- Use a pedometer to make sure you are getting the recommended 10,000 steps a day
- Don’t sit to watch TV—walk on a treadmill or do stretching exercises instead.
- Stand up or walk when you talk on the telephone—don’t stayed glued to your chair
- Dance! In a ballroom or in your living room, it’s a great way to have fun while burning calories.
Remember—moving your body every day is crucial for good health. Even if you are obese and haven’t exercised in years, it’s never too late to start. However, be sure to speak with your doctor before you begin any exercise program. Walking is a great activity for just about anyone. Beginner’s yoga is another good starting point. Try out different activities to find the one that’s fun for you and suits you best. Within a short time, you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.