If you’re over 50 and avoid exercise for any reason, here’s why you need to begin now.
You hear it everywhere, bombarding you from all sides. Exercise! Work out! Take a walk! You hear it so much that by now you’ve almost tuned it out. You must exercise to keep healthy, stay young, be able to play with your grand kids…on and on and on. Enough already! You know you SHOULD do it. But can someone really tell me why? Sure!
Read on, my friend, for why you need to begin exercising now if you’re over 50.
We’ll go ahead and begin with the biggie:
Fight Weight Gain, Especially Around the Belly
We all know someone who never seems to gain weight. But most people do gain some after 40 or 50, unless they are already quite active, or deliberately adopt some new strategies.
Although pre-menopause and menopause may be a factor for women, aging itself is the more likely cause. But hey! You can counter this with a good attitude toward fitness and a plan.
One thing menopause may contribute to is a tendency to gain more around your middle. I experienced this after age 60, having completed menopause at 59. Genetics play the big role in where you tend to gain or hold weight. All my life I had gained mostly around my butt and thighs, while maintaining a smaller waist and flat stomach.
Not anymore. I noticed not too long ago that I had what I could only call “rolls” around my waist! I was shocked! But once I did some research, I found it was normal, and there were ways to combat it.
What you eat is certainly (very) important, but in the middle years and beyond, greater inactivity plays a larger role than you might think.
Start small if you must, but start exercising! See this post on how to make walking a habit.
Keep Osteoporosis at Bay
I know this one isn’t all sexy and awesome, but osteoporosis is a serious threat to older people in general, and women in particular. Some sources say that up to 50% of women will have some level of osteoporosis by age 60!
Many of the causes are age-related due to lifelong stressors, dietary, environmental, and physical. The disease was not nearly as prevalent 100 years ago. Likely contributors are drinking too much soda, taking anti-acid medications for a long period of time (this was a surprising one to me), eating too much protein, and not exercising in a way that puts stress on your bones (also known as weight-bearing exercise).
Improve Blood Pressure & Heart Health
According to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, “One cardiovascular death per year may be preventable for every 145 people….who are persuaded to walk at least two hours a week.”
While walking only 3 total hours per week can result in a 10% decrease in heart disease, Harvard researchers have found up to a 20% reduction in those who engage in even more rigorous exercise, such as jogging, swimming laps and even playing tennis.
Dr. Dean Ornish has long been a pioneer in research on the effect of dramatic lifestyle changes to reduce and even reverse heart disease. In his new book, “UnDo It!,” he says, “many of the most common and debilitating chronic diseases and even much of the damage of aging…can often be stopped, slowed, or even reversed by this lifestyle program.”
His recommendations include, along with a largely plant-based diet, moving more, plain and simple. More aerobic exercise, more strength training, and more stretching.
Increase Energy and Strength
Okay, seriously, who among us couldn’t use some more energy? I know I certainly can. And strength? You want to continue to be able to lift a grandchild, or a 25 lb bag of rice, right?
My husband works on all sorts of projects, and this means hanging out frequently at Lowe’s or Home Depot and lugging home large sheets of plywood, drywall, or some other such stuff. I need to have some upper body strength just to keep up with him.
You won’t be surprised to hear me say that strength training, since it increases your muscle mass, makes you stronger. If you’re stronger, you’ll have more energy, simple as that.
Being stronger makes us more efficient as we use our bodies for various tasks, and this leads to an overall increase in your energy levels.
Improve Your Flexibility
Our tendon strength and flexibility decrease as we age. Regular stretching exercises can improve your posture and your ability to move freely with less stiffness and pain.
Everyone should stretch after exercise, but you need it even more as you age. Beginning a stretching routine can seem difficult and awkward at first, but if you keep at it, you could soon be jogging or playing tennis without pain.
It will also be easier to reach items you have to stretch for, and keep your neck and back limber for tasks as simple as looking behind you when backing out of a parking space. Finding everyday things easier and less painful contributes to an overall happier and less stressful life. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Help Your Brain Stay Sharp
Exercise just plain makes you smarter. For a lot of people, this alone may be a reason to continue, or even begin exercising in the years over age 50. Dr. Ornish says “physical activity improves cognitive function in people of all ages.” Apparently, exercise increases something called “autophagy,” which removes toxic gunk from inside your brain cells. Go figure.
In addition, it doesn’t take a lot of exercise to increase our thinking power. Apparently, just standing instead of sitting can make a big difference over the long-term.
Also, the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that controls memory, gets bigger with exercise. Wouldn’t you like to reduce the number of times you say, “now where did I put that?” Or, “why did I come into this room?”
Improve Your Quality of Sleep
Exercise can help improve your sleep time and quality for a variety of reasons. For one, it can decrease your stress levels, and this can help you fall asleep faster, and wake up less stressful (either in the morning or during the night). Who among us has not awakened in the middle of the night with some stressful situation and not been able to go back to sleep?
Strenuous physical activity can help you sleep more deeply, and deep sleep is the kind that restores your body the best. This means waking up more energized and raring to go.
The key here is beginning and then maintaining a regular exercise schedule. This will lead to the best benefits for your sleep over time.
Improve Independence and Quality of Life
It goes without saying that if you are able to ward off the diseases of aging, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, and dementia, your quality of life will be better.
And wouldn’t you rather be independent long into your senior years as well? Not needing to rely on your children or another caregiver to help you with every minute of your waking day?
I want to golf, travel, and sew into my 90s and beyond, and barring unforeseen circumstances, which admittedly can befall anyone, I plan to by keeping active and eating right. I don’t want to have to give up my car either, and I doubt you do either.
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, (one of my favorite bedtime tomes :-)), detailed how researchers followed 1600 (previously) mostly sedentary older adults between the ages of 70-89 for almost 4 years. Half of them engaged in a walking, strength, and balance regimen, and the others did not. The results showed that the exercising seniors had 25% fewer incidents of disability or injuries.
Significant was the fact that, even in the exercising adults who DID encounter an injury or disability, their recovery time was much shorter than for those who did not exercise.
Isn’t this is a very good reason to start now, and keep on walking and lifting a few weights?
Exercise helps decrease depression and anxiety. It is fairly well-known that exercise creates the so-called “runner’s high,” due to increased endorphins. These substances are known to reduce the perception of pain, and also increase feelings of happiness.
Dr. Ornish says exercise can not only prevent depression, but even treat it. The results have proven to be as good as, or in some cases even better than, traditional treatments for depression.
The benefits are true of both aerobic and strength exercises. All of it increases hormones that benefit your arteries and your brain.
The happiness benefits of exercising seem to be the same with both greater and lesser frequency of workouts. They also extend to the young, middle, and older ages, and both men and women.
It’s even better if we exercise with a partner—so go take a walk with someone you love. It’s bound to make you both happier!
Look and Feel Younger
Saved it till last! You, like me, may be looking for Hotness Over Fifty, not just Fitness Over Fifty. And it’s okay! I’ve been criticized for wanting to look good into my golden years, but I’ve learned to shrug that sort of criticism off as sour grapes or jealousy. Whatever the reason, I don’t let it bother me. Of COURSE I want all those other benefits above, but why can’t I want to look good, even sexy into my 60s and even 70s, if possible?
I don’t have the sort of income or budget to go under the knife (and I’m not even sure I would if I did have the means), but exercise (and eating right, of course) “can improve your health to the point where you look and feel younger than you are”, according to Frank Frisch, PhD, director of kinesiology at Chapman University in Orange, Calif.
Even if this is the main (or only) reason you want to exercise and be physically fit, know that it’s okay. It’s certainly possible for that to be your overarching reason for beginning to exercise, but you’ll sure experience the other benefits as well. And that’s a win in my book.
Exercising can be a challenge at any age. But if you have compelling reasons to exercise, like one or more of the reasons above, you can increase your quality of life even in your second phase! Now that you know why you need to begin exercising if you’re over 50, what’s stopping you?