Aging. It’s as inevitable as death and taxes.
Aging—the process of becoming older—is complex and influenced by your genetics, environment, diet, and other factors over the course of your life. As a result, each of us ages at a different rate and in a different way than others. Some people begin aging as early as the age of 30 and others not until much later in life.
Beyond the external signs of aging like the wrinkling of skin and greying of hair, your body undergoes significant changes internally as you grow older:
The Heart: Blood vessels and arteries stiffen over time, causing your heart to work harder to pump blood through them. Heart muscles change to adjust to the increased workload. Your heart rate won't increase during activities as much as it used to, which in turn, burns fewer calories. These changes increase the risk of high blood pressure, other cardiovascular problems, and weight gain.
Bones, Joints, and Muscles: As you age, bones often shrink in density and size, which makes them more fragile and susceptible to fracture. Muscles lose strength, endurance, and flexibility—factors that can affect your coordination, stability, and balance.
Digestion and Urinary Tract: Changes to the structure of your large intestines can result in more constipation as an older adult. Your bladder muscles and pelvic floor muscles may also weaken, making it difficult for us to empty our bladders completely or can result in a loss of bladder control. These problems are also the result of an enlarged or inflamed prostate in men.
Other Changes: The prefrontal cortex and hippocampus of your brain shrinks as you grow older, affecting planning, memory or other mental skills. Sexually, vaginal dryness or erectile dysfunction may become more common and make intimacy more challenging.
While these changes to the body are often undesired, there is a proven way to delay them from occurring and lessen their impact: Exercise.
Simply by exercising on a regular basis and adopting a healthy lifestyle that emphasizes good nutrition and habits, you can offset your aging decline.
Exercise enhances the immune system; supports cardiovascular health; improves digestion, urinary, and sexual issues; and helps manage and even lower the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and other conditions. It can also reduce risk of depression, decrease stress, and improve cognitive function, which benefits your mental health.
In terms of your muscles and bones, exercise builds muscle strength and increases flexibility which can aid coordination, balance, and overall mobility. These activities can ultimately help you maintain your independence as you get older.
How Much Exercise Do Older People Need?
In my previous blog on what good health means, I mention that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, which includes both aerobic activities that get your heart rate up and strengthening activities that increase your muscular fitness.
That guidance doesn’t change as you age; you should continue to get 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week with a mixture of aerobic and strength training.
What does change is a greater emphasis on balance and flexibility exercises—particularly for people ages 65 and older—to help strengthen muscles to maintain stability and keep you from falling. While there are specific exercises you can do to increase balance and flexibility, activities like yoga, Tai Chi, and dancing also enhance these skills.
Starting an exercise or healthy living program on your own can be a daunting experience, especially if you've never done it before or have had health setbacks that make these efforts challenging.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to stay healthy as you age, feel free to set up a call to connect with me. As a specialist in active aging, I can help you reach your exercise and diet goals to live the life you’ve been dreaming about!