Your Health Matters: Exercise Benefits People of all Ages

Judy BlackBy Dr. Judith Black

Americans are living longer and are in better physical condition than their predecessors because today’s senior citizens are more aware of the need to remain physically active into their “Golden Years.” Whether you are a senior yourself or you are looking for ways to help the seniors in your life live longer, healthier lives, it is important to remember that physical fitness can benefit people of all ages and physical conditions.

Many older adults may not get started with an exercise or physical fitness program because of their fear of injury, aggravating another medical condition or being strained beyond their limitations. Don’t worry, it is normal to feel this way. It is important to remember, however, that you should always begin by having a conversation with your family physician before starting with any new program. Everyone is different, but your doctor will know your medical condition and history as well as any limitations you may have. By discussing the degree and intensity of your exercise program, together you can agree on what has the potential to work best for you.

It is natural to feel hesitant when starting something new, but when planned and executed properly and thoughtfully, physical activity can help to improve your ability to do the everyday activities you enjoy while remaining independent.

Successful exercise programs for seniors generally fall into four main categories:  endurance, strength, balance and flexibility. By finding activities that incorporate attention to each of these areas, you will see benefits in every area of your life, even if you have had an inactive lifestyle previously.

Although many people are eager to get started, there is always the risk of overdoing things. This can result in soreness, which, in turn, might discourage a person and make him or her want to stop. Start slowly to discover your comfort threshold and then increase from there. If you can find a buddy to work out with, even better. This could be a friend or family member, or you can join an organized fitness program like SilverSneakers®  to keep motivated and to establish a routine that will not only make you feel better overall, but will give you something to look forward to each day or week. SilverSneakers membership is often available through Medicare Advantage health insurance plans. Check with your health insurer to see if you’re eligible.

I recommend making physical activity a regular part of your daily life. In fact, for older adults, mental and physical fitness may even be linked. Examine your options and find a program you will enjoy in order to establish a routine that you will be comfortable with. Some people like to go to a gym for a structured workout, while others enjoy a neighborhood walking club. Either approach to your physical activities will help improve your fitness, ability to function and quality of life. You will see success if you do this regularly.

Exercise benefits everyone, but in some ways, older adults have even more to gain when they make a decision to get fit and create their routines to stay fit. Lowered risk for heart disease, arthritis and high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels have been linked to physical fitness. Managing and treating or preventing other diseases like breast and colon cancer and osteoporosis also have been connected back to one’s overall fitness.

Exercise boosts circulation and tones the cardiovascular system. At the same time, it builds strength, burns calories and reduces depression. It also improves insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes, and it may even help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

It is never to later to get started. Having a physical fitness plan that makes sense for you and your doctor and one that you adhere to will make your feel better overall. Your health matters, and the key to your success will be identifying what you enjoy doing, including it in your regular routine and then trying to increase your level of activity over time.

Dr. Judith Black is Medical Director for Senior Markets at Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia.
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