You’re Never Too Old to Exercise
A growing body of research shows the benefits of exercise are just
as significant for those in their 70s and beyond as for younger
persons, according to Duke University Medical Center researchers, who
believe regular exercise can in fact slow or even reverse some of the
effects of aging that were once thought to be inevitable.
Blumenthal, Ph.D., Duke professor of medical psychology, said regular
physical activity for seniors benefits both mind and body.
improves psychological functioning, in terms of reducing symptoms of
distress, anxiety and depression," said Blumenthal, whose own work has
investigated the comparative benefits of exercise and medication on
depression. "In addition, exercise has been shown to improve
self-esteem and self-confidence.
"We also see clear benefits of
exercise on physical functioning. It reduces the risk for
cardiovascular disease, lowers cholesterol, builds bone density and
lowers the risk of osteoporosis. There's a suggestion that it lowers
blood pressure, and even data to suggest that the risk of having
gallstones is reduced with exercise."
Blumenthal said exercise
can also benefit patients with existing medical conditions. "If you
have cardiovascular disease, it lowers the risk of having further heart
complications. For patients who have osteoarthritis, it improves their
functional ability and reduces levels of pain."
One of the
messages Blumenthal and other researchers in the field want to send to
seniors is that the physical activity they chose does not have to be
intensive to realize meaningful health benefits. "You don't need to run
a marathon," he said. "You'll see benefits from walking, biking and
other simple activities."
Unfortunately, older Americans, like
the rest of our population, aren't getting enough exercise. Blumenthal
said the current recommendation is to try and get at least some aerobic
exercise every day or almost every day. He says 30 minutes a day, five
days a week, is optimal.
Research also shows exercise can help
lower health care costs for America's aging population. Regular
physical activity can facilitate weight loss and weight management, and
can help regulate blood sugar levels to control type 2 diabetes.
Obesity and diabetes are two of America's most serious public health
problems, Blumenthal said.
"It's never too late to start
exercising," he said. "Exercise can help an older person improve their
physical fitness, muscle strength and aerobic capacity, as well as
their mood and cognitive abilities. There was a belief a number of
years ago that beyond a certain age, people wouldn't get the same
benefits from exercise as a younger person would. Now we know that's
not the case."