Stay Healthier After 60 with Regular Exercise

Routine exercise can help you stay healthy as you age.

Most of us older than 50 have experienced an ache or pain, a mysterious, lingering bit of discomfort that doesn’t seem to go away quite as quickly as it once did. Check the calendar. It could be that the lingering is simply due to the passage of time, and you need to modify or begin an exercise program to help you stay healthy as you age.

Exercise is good for you, physically and mentally, and exercise possibly can extend the average life span. A British study published in 2008 found that exercise causes molecular changes that help prevent aging, and a study by researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and others found that exercise can restore some physiological losses and prevent disease tendencies that normally accompany aging.

Exercise programs for older adults have been found to:

  • Increase muscle flexibility and strength
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increase the amount of HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad)
  • Improve psychological well-being
  • Improve memory
  • Increase interest in sex

The American Heart Association recommendations for physical activity in adults:
For overall cardiovascular health are

  • At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity for at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes or a combination of the two and moderate to high intensity muscle-strengthening activity for at least 2 days per week for additional health benefits.

For lowering blood pressure and cholestrol:

  • An average of 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise for 3-4 days per week.

If you already exercise, you may need to fine-tune your routine to keep its benefits without exacerbating wear and tear on the body. If you are starting an exercise program, or if you have a medical condition, you’ll want to plan how to fit health-enhancing activities into your life.

Check with your doctor

Visit your personal physician before starting a new or expanded exercise program. If you don’t have a doctor, now’s the time to establish a relationship with one who can monitor your health and can help you avoid injury as you age, says Vishal Kancherla, D.O., a Physical Medicine specialist with The Austin Diagnostic Clinic (ADC).

You’ll certainly need a physician’s advice if you have medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, osteoporosis or previous muscle or joint injuries. If you are overweight, smoke or have smoked, or have a family history of heart disease – especially with members younger than 55 – you’ll want to discuss exercise options with your physician.

These conditions usually do not preclude exercise, explains Dr. Kancherla, but may shape the type and duration of exercise that is best for you. “If your physician knows and monitors your medical history, he or she can help tailor an exercise program that can benefit you without leading to injury or exacerbation of illness,” he says.

Stay flexible, stay strong

Exercise helps muscles remain flexible and strengthens bone density, says Dr. Kancherla. “The musculoskeletal framework of the human body loses flexibility and strength as it ages,” he says. “Our muscles lose mass, our tendons lose elasticity and our bones lose density, making them weaker as a whole.”

Exercises such as jogging and running may be too jarring for the older-than-55 body, he advises. “And you should be careful with tennis and golf, since the twisting and turning involved may cause injuries to the spine and abdomen.”

Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, either around the block or on a treadmill or elliptical walker, can help maintain bone density, which in turn helps prevent fractures. Swimming, water aerobics, and movement routines such as yoga or tai chi help support flexibility and cardiovascular health.

Aerobic exercise – an activity that gets your heart pumping – also helps keep age at bay.   “Aerobic exercise also has the benefit of helping to lower blood pressure, manage cholesterol and diabetes, improve sleep cycles, maintain a healthy weight and stabilize mood, and can be an adjunct to medications,” says Dr. Kancherla.

Beware the heat and humidity

Pay attention to the weather when exercising indoors or outdoors here in Central Texas.

“As we age, our body loses some of its ability to regulate its temperature,” Dr. Kancherla explains. “Older adults are susceptible to heat-related illnesses and heat stroke. So, monitoring your hydration, choosing cooler times in the day and finding shaded or indoor places to exercise is smart.”

Fit exercise into your life

Exercise may have been low on your priority list when you were younger. You may have found family and work filling your days. Or, you may have been a regular at the gym or track, but since have been sidetracked.

“Find an exercise that you like and make the time to do it,” says Dr. Kancherla.  “There’s no question that exercise improves overall adult health, and it is unequivocally helpful for those past age 55. Exercise can make a positive contribution to your life and your ability to enjoy it as you grow older.”

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