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Exercise can help you stay happy, healthy as you age

Man lifts weights above his head
Blog

/ by Peter Gray

Written by Peter Gray, an athletic trainer at UK Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine and the head athletic trainer at Henry Clay High School in Lexington. This is column is part of a series titled The Proactive Athlete, which will teach athletes and others who engage in physical activity how to stay active and prevent injuries.

Regular physical activity is an important component of a healthy lifestyle, especially as you age. In fact, exercising regularly can prevent many of the health problems that manifest with age and can help you maintain your independence as you grow older.

Why is exercise important?

Physical activity is beneficial for a number of reasons:

  • Helps control blood pressure, body weight and cholesterol levels. 
  • Decreases the risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Helps maintain muscular strength and endurance.
  • Conditions tendons, ligaments and bones to help fight osteoporosis, thus lowering the risk of everyday injury.
  • Improves digestion. 
  • Helps with the management of arthritis and diabetes.
  • Lowers the risk of some cancers.
  • Boosts mood.
  • Helps you sleep better.
  • Gives you more energy.

What kinds of exercises should seniors do?

Adults need at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week as well as muscle-strengthening activities two or more days per week that work all major muscle groups. A well-rounded exercise program would include cardiovascular exercise, strength training and stretching.

The best cardiovascular exercises for seniors are low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming and cycling. Cardiovascular exercises can strengthen your heart and lungs and give you more energy. 

Strengthening exercises such as lifting weights and using resistance bands or cable pulley machines can help you maintain your muscle mass. Research suggests that adults older than 50 who do not perform resistance training can lose approximately a quarter of a pound of muscle mass per year. Losing muscle mass will directly affect the amount of calories your body burns each day, so resistance training is very important for weight management. Additionally, strong muscles help reduce the risk of falls, one of the causes of disability among older adults.

Stretching is also important because it loosens muscles and reduces pain and inflammation in the body. This type of exercise is especially beneficial if you suffer from conditions like osteoarthritis. 

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