Modern medical science is amazing! Many life-threatening diseases and conditions have been almost eradicated, but, as of yet, medical science has not been able to find a cure for aging. However, just because medical science can’t keep you young forever, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t steps that you can take to preserve your fitness and health as you age. In this article, I am going to reveal exactly how you can slow down the aging process and live a more enjoyable, healthy and productive life, as a result.
Aging is inevitable, and unfortunately it comes with a host of physical and mental changes — most of which are not very welcome. Where your muscles were once strong and your joints mobile, aging can leave you feeling weak, tired and stiff. This often makes leading an active, independent, productive life very difficult. While medical science can prolong life, daily quality often suffers, and I’m sure you know at least a few older people who hardly ever leave their homes. Many spend most of their time sitting in front of the TV.
You do not have to be a victim of the aging process! You can meet it head on, and take steps to preserve your physical and mental faculties so that you can make your golden years as active and productive as possible.
The Aging Process
In simple terms, aging occurs when cellular breakdown (catabolism) outpaces rebuilding in the body (anabolism). This results in several changes that, I’m sure you’ll agree, are far from desirable:
- Weaker, smaller muscles.
- Reduced heart and lung fitness.
- Reduced bone density and strength that may lead to osteoporosis.
- Impaired balance and co-ordination which may lead to suffering a fall.
- The dreaded middle age spread — weight gain caused by muscle loss, reduced metabolic rate and lowered activity levels.
While aging and its associated physical changes is inevitable, they can be slowed to a crawl if you remember this one, vital principle — use it or lose it.
Use It or Lose It
Your body is a master adapter, by which I mean it gets very good at doing whatever you do frequently. If you spend all day sitting in a chair watching TV, that’s exactly what your body will get good at doing. However, if you get up, get out and exercise, your body will adapt to whatever type of workout you perform, and your fitness and health will improve — whatever your age.
Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the man who invented the term aerobics, who is considered to be the godfather of modern exercise science, once said, “We do not stop exercising because we grow old — we grow old because we stop exercising.” which is the philosophy of use it or lose it in a nutshell.
Many older people consider exercise to be an activity only suited to the young, when in fact, the opposite is true. Up until the age of 40 or so, anabolism naturally outpaces catabolism and markers like muscle mass, strength and bone mass naturally peak. However, once that threshold is crossed, age-related catabolism starts to speed up. Exercise can significantly slow the physical and mental declines commonly associated with age, so that strength, fitness and mobility are preserved.
Types of Exercise and Their Benefits
There are several types of exercise that you should include in a well-rounded exercise program, and each one offers different age-related benefits.
1. Strength Training
Strength Training involves lifting weights, doing body weight exercises, using rubber resistance bands or otherwise placing your muscles under load. This will preserve or even improve your strength which will make virtually every physical task easier and less tiring. Lack of strength can impair your ability to walk, get out of bed, climb stairs or get out of a chair so strength training is essential for maintaining an active, independent lifestyle. Strength training can also: increase your bone density, help maintain your joint mobility, improve your balance and increase your insulin sensitivity, which will reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
To get the most from strength training, you need to expose your muscles to more stress than they are used to, two or three times a week. To do this, you can go to the gym and exercise under the tutelage of a qualified, experienced instructor or if you prefer, perform body-weight exercises, such as push-ups and step-ups, at home. Also, remember that physically demanding activities such as gardening and household chores can also help build all-around strength — especially if you are unused to regular exercise.
2. Cardiovascular Exercise
Cardiovascular Exercise, also known as aerobic exercise, affects your heart, lungs and circulatory system. Cardiovascular exercise is also inextricably linked to cardiovascular health. Examples of cardiovascular exercise include: walking, jogging, swimming and cycling, or group exercise classes such as step or dance aerobics. These are all different types of activities that leave you warm and feeling out of breath. Cardiovascular exercise also burns calories which can help you to maintain your healthy, ideal weight.
According to the American Heart Association, you should build up to around 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week to improve your fitness and reduce your risk of suffering cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. This equates to 30 minutes, five-times a week. However, there is no need to jump right in at this level — just start by doing as much as is comfortable, and then increase the duration and frequency of your workouts, as you are able.
You should be slightly out of breath but still be able to hold a conversation when you perform this kind of exercise. If you have any foot, ankle, knee, hip or lower back issues, choose low impact activities such as swimming or cycling. Running and other high impact activities may make your aches and pains worse.
3. Mobility and Flexibility Exercises
Mobility and Flexibility Exercises are important for keeping your muscles and joints healthy. Muscles naturally shorten with age and arthritis, caused by inflammation and wear and tear which can make joints painful and stiff. The less you move your muscles and joints, the tighter your muscles will feel and the stiffer your joints will become, so it is very important that you perform mobility and flexibility exercises. To improve your mobility, take your major joints through a gradually increasing, pain free, range of movement. For example, roll your shoulders back and then progress into arm circles. To improve your flexibility, gently stretch your major muscles. Try, sitting on the floor with your legs straight and leaning forward toward your toes. Perform mobility and flexibility exercises daily for best results.
Considerations for Older Exercisers
Exercise is undeniably beneficial, but it is not without its risks. If you are new to exercise, have been sedentary or unwell lately or if you have any chronic medical condition and are taking medication, check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine. Once you have the all-clear, start slowly and increase frequency, duration and intensity of exercise gradually, as doing too much can leave you sore and stiff. Seek out expert guidance from an experienced instructor or trainer, if you are unsure how to integrate regular exercise into your current lifestyle. Above all, seek out activities you enjoy that seamlessly slot into your lifestyle; I want you to make exercise part of your everyday life and for it to be something you learn to love. That way, you’ll keep doing it.
Ready, Get Set, GO!
Exercise can have a profound effect on virtually every aspect of your health and well-being but only if you actually start. The sooner you do, the sooner you will start enjoying these benefits. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to become an exercise fanatic or that exercise is only for the young — that couldn’t be more untrue! Instead, embrace exercise and make your golden years your fittest, healthiest and most enjoyable yet, and remember the wise words of the Roman orator Cicero, “Exercise and temperance can preserve something of our early strength even in old age.”References