An old stereotype about aging suggests that we should take to our rocking chairs as we grow older. Too many people are following this bad advice, say experts!
Why do people tend to be less active in their later years? There are several reasons. They might fear that mobility challenges, vision loss or other health problems make it unsafe to exercise. They may fear overdoing it, or falling. Retirement or other changes in their life circumstances might reduce opportunities to be active.
But a recent study published by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) turns these myths upside down. Researchers from the Seoul National University Graduate School Department of Biomedical Sciences took a look at the health data of more than a million seniors, and found that those who slowed down with age had a 27% increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
The study subjects were all from Korea, but otherwise, the results cut across population groups — men, women, people from every socioeconomic group, and those who were living with all sorts of health problems. The study even took into account bad habits like drinking too much alcohol and smoking.
So, if you or an older loved one has taken to the couch as of late, remember that our older years are not the time to slow down. On the contrary! Pick up the pace. It’s not only good for our hearts, but also for our brains, joints, emotions and just about every aspect of health. And if you’re worried about falling, keep in mind that physical activity is a top way to lower the risk.
It’s never too late.
An earlier study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that, as you might expect, seniors who had been fit their whole lives had the best health. But those who started exercising later in life could catch up significantly. Said study author Dr. Chiadi Ndumele, “Our findings demonstrate that every little bit of movement matters, and that picking up exercise later in life is decidedly better than not moving at all.”
So, if you’ve been a couch potato, how do you begin turning over this healthy new leaf?
Older adults and anyone living with a chronic health condition or recovering from an injury or illness should talk that over with their doctor. And no, your doctor probably will not tell you that you should slow down! Instead, they will provide an appropriate exercise “prescription,” which will most likely include:
- Aerobic activity, which increases heart rate and breathing, bringing more oxygen to the body (for example: brisk walking, swimming).
- Muscle strengthening exercises, which preserve our strength and lower the risk of many health conditions (for example: lifting weights, working with resistance bands, climbing stairs).
- Flexibility exercises, which stretch the ligaments in our body, improving mobility and blood flow (for example: stretching, yoga).
- Balance training to prevent falls and enhance confidence in exercising (for example: balance classes, tai chi).
There’s an exercise program for almost any senior, regardless of physical or mental health status.
Activities can be modified, as with chair exercise or water aerobics. You can find specialized senior exercise programs at senior centers, senior living communities, health clubs and through your local parks and recreation department. Even active video game systems are beneficial.
Every little bit helps.
The ESC study authors noted that gardening and housework also offer a good dose of moderate exercise. And what about dancing? Depending on your moves, you could even be grooving into the intense exercise zone. The goal is to find a routine you enjoy, get the OK of your doctor, and make physical activity a regular part of life.