Updated: Mar 3, 2020
It’s a fact of life that our bodies aren’t quite as efficient at repairing or regenerating as we get older. This can mean an increased frequency of injuries and a longer healing time. It may be easy to think, “Perhaps it’s time to slow down...”
Of course, we need to listen to our bodies. It might be that you’re no longer going to be a sprinter with a pace to challenge Usain Bolt. But if you want to be able to move as freely and easily as possible well into your golden years (and even if you’re already entering those years!), you’ve got to keep moving!
The cliché “Use it or lose it” rings true here. I’ve met many clients with arthritis, knee and hip replacements, or individuals who just have a long history of being sedentary. It is hard to get moving again when we’ve been inactive for so long, or when historical injury can mean that movement causes pain. But if you read our post on ligament dominance, you’ll know that keeping our muscles strong is vital for looking after our joints.
A team of researchers from Finland and the U.S.A. found that a 21 week strength program (including resistance training twice a week) lead to large gains in maximal strength, walking time and balance (1).
Perhaps you’re not surprised – of course strength training makes us stronger and fitter! But did you know regular physical activity is also associated with increased longevity, and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and cancer (2)?
Not only this, but regular exercise might help us fight off slightly less threatening illnesses, such as the common cold. As we age, we experience something called ‘immunosenescence.’ In plain terms, this just means that our immune system starts to lose its functionality somewhat. However, regular exercise is associated with enhanced immunity in the elderly.
As we age, we also start losing bone (particularly if we’re female) and muscle mass, which can negatively affect our strength, aerobic fitness, and general independence. But resistance training in particular is a great strategy to counteract these negative effects of aging by increasing our muscle mass, improving our bone mineral density, and therefore our general mobility. All of these benefits help ensure a higher quality of life into older age (3,4).
Exercise obviously helps keep us healthy as we age, but it also helps us keep happy. In a study of a group of 76 year olds in Sweden, it was found that men and women with higher physical activity levels reported fewer problems with energy, pain, emotions and mobility – and for men, they also experienced less feelings of social isolation. The conclusion of the study was that physically fit, active elderly people have a higher quality of life (5).
It’s pretty clear to see that if we want to live long, happy, and healthy lives, regular exercise plays a big part in achieving that goal.
The key is to “start low, progress slow.” We aren’t suggesting that you jump straight into running a marathon (but who knows, it could be an eventual possibility!), but making a variety of little changes to your daily routine and incorporating some basic aerobic and resistance training will do wonders for your body and mind.
(1) J Holviala Affiliation: Department of Biology of Physical Activity, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland, et al. (2014). Effects of prolonged and maintenance strength training on force production, walking, and balance in aging women and men. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 24(1), 224-233.
(2) Simpson et al. (2012). Exercise and the aging immune system. Ageing Research Reviews, 11(3), 404-420.
(3) Candow, D.G. (2008). The impact of nutritional and exercise strategies for aging bone and muscle. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 33(1), 181-183.
(4) ZV Kendrick Affiliation: Biokinetics Research Laboratory, College of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, et al. (1994). Exercise, aging, and nutrition. Southern medical journal, 87(5), S50-60.
(5) G Grimby Affiliation: Departments of Rehabilitation Medicine and Geriatrics, University of Göteborg, Sweden, et al. (1992). Physically fit and active elderly people have a higher quality of life. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 2(4), 225-230.