In last month’s column I began to address reasons why seniors need to “keep physically fit.” I quoted from a recent study that “regular physical activity and exercise are important to the physical and mental health of almost everyone, including older adults. Staying physically active and exercising regularly can produce long-term health benefits and even improve health for some older people who already have diseases and disabilities. That’s why health experts say that older adults should aim to be as active as possible.”
In this month’s column, I want to continue that theme by suggesting three important considerations that seniors need to address.
First, being inactive can be risky.
Although exercise and physical activity are among the healthiest things you can do for yourself, some older adults are reluctant to exercise. Some are afraid that exercise will be too hard or that physical activity will harm them. Others might think they have to join a gym or have special equipment. Yet, studies show that “taking it easy” is risky. For the most part, when older people lose their ability to do things on their own, it doesn’t happen just because they’ve aged. It’s usually because they’re not active. Lack of physical activity also can lead to more visits to the doctor, more hospitalizations, and more use of medicines for a variety of illnesses.
Second, physical activity can prevent or delay disease.
Scientists have found that staying physically active and exercising regularly can help prevent or delay many diseases and disabilities. In some cases, exercise is an effective treatment for many chronic conditions. For example, studies show that people with arthritis, heart disease, or diabetes benefit from regular exercise. Exercise also helps people with high blood pressure, balance problems, or difficulty walking.
Third, physical activity is a means to manage stress, and improve one’s mood.
Regular, moderate physical activity can help manage stress and improve your mood. And, being active on a regular basis may help reduce feelings of depression. Studies also suggest that exercise can improve or maintain some aspects of cognitive function, such as your ability to shift quickly between tasks, plan an activity, and ignore irrelevant information.
As I mentioned earlier, exercising doesn’t have to mean joining a gym or doing activities that might seem harmful. Just taking a pet for walk … planting a garden … socializing with friends while taking a walk around the mall, are all appropriate activities that will keep you “fit.” Of course, structured exercise is healthy too. In fact, it can extend life expectancy by 4.5 years, according to a 2012 study by the National Institutes of Health.
Just remember … if you want to be healthy and productive in your senior years, keep the mind and the body active, and get involved with other people … especially serving others.