Aging Well – Staying Active May Be a Key to Ongoing Wellness
As we age, it is not uncommon to find that we are simply not as energetic, flexible, or even as mentally sharp as we once were. Recent studies have shown that staying both physically and mentally active is more beneficial to our health than you may realize.
Physical Activity Proves to be Beneficial for Healthy Aging
Muscle loss and bone loss are common as we age. This in turn may lead to conditions such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, with general aches and pains. However, regular exercise slows the progression of muscle and bone loss. It strengthens your bones and can help reduce pain from stiff joints.
Staying mobile and focusing on flexibility also helps reduce the risk of serious injury due to falls, such as broken hips. Other benefits of exercising include:
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Better blood flow to the brain
- Improved memory
Researchers at the University of Birmingham and King’s College London did a study on 125 active seniors, aged 55 to 79 years of age. 41 of the participants were female, 84 were male, they were all amateur cyclists, and anyone with high blood pressure or other serious health conditions were not included in the study. This group was compared to a group of seniors aged 57 to 80, and a group of younger adults aged 20 to 36, all of whom did not participate in any form of regular physical activity.
The results were astounding. The active seniors group showed no loss of muscle mass or physical strength, their cholesterol levels were healthy, and the men maintained healthy testosterone levels. Even more astounding was the production of T-cells, which protect our immune system, in the active senior’s group was as healthy as that of a much younger person.
While cycling was the activity used in this study, there are many more activities that are beneficial for people at all physical states and abilities such as
- Tai Chi
- Swimming / Aquacise
Each of these activities can be tailored to your abilities and strengths, with some of them such as Tai Chi, yoga and swimming being offered for those in wheelchairs and/or who may use walkers or other assistance devices in many YMCAs and other fitness facilities.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons states that research suggests that daily moderate physical activity, even just 30 minutes per day, can provide adequate health benefits.
Should you do physical exercise if you have a medical condition?
It is always important to talk to your doctor before beginning any form of exercise. Research has shown that people with arthritis, osteoporosis and other bone and joint conditions often benefit greatly from physical movement. In fact, lack of activity can make some physical conditions more challenging to live with. Speak to your doctor about what exercise may be safe and effective for you.
Keeping Your Mind Sharp With Mental Fitness
Mental fitness? Is this something real? It is! The National Institute on Aging states that cognitive health, which is the ability to think clearly, remember, and learn new things, is one of several important components of brain health. Other components include sensory functions (how you respond to sensations of pain, temperature, and touch), emotional functions, and motor functions. Visit the Cognitive Health and Older Adults page on the NIH website
Along with physical activity, which helps keep your body physically healthy, keeping your mind active as well is beneficial for your mental health. Some of the benefits may include:
- Improved memory
- Less difficulty performing complicated tasks such as cooking, remembering to take medications, and managing your finances
- Improved ability to learn new concepts
- Faster recall and reasoning
It’s important to keep in mind that mental activity may not cure or fully prevent certain conditions such as Alzheimer’s, but studies have shown that for many people mental fitness is beneficial.
In a study called Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) trial to, adults over 65 years of age were involved in 10 sessions of reasoning training, memory training, and process-speed training. The results showed that the participants had improvements the mental skills in each area they were trained – and the improvements lasted for ten years beyond the completion of the trial!
So, what can “YOU” do to stay mentally fit?
Easy and accessible daily activities to consider for better mental fitness include:
- Playing board or card games
- Taking a class to learn something new
- Doing puzzles or brain teasers
- Volunteer and meet new people
Socializing Plays a Role in Mental Fitness
Isolation is unfortunately common among seniors. Lack of socializing can have long-lasting effects on both the body and the mind. It is important to stay connected with other people and the world around you. Socializing and participating in events with friends and family can help keep the mind active and engaged. If you do not have family or friends to engage with on a regular basis, consider some of the following:
- Join a local senior’s center and see what activities are on their social calendar
- Volunteer at a hospital to visit with patients
- Join a walking group or activity group
Physical activity and mental activity are both important as we age! As we have shown, there is scientific proof that both can help to hold back the hands of time, and help us live happier and healthy lives! Now is the time to take a look at your schedule for the week ahead, and ask yourself “what will I do today?”
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This article contains medical information provided to help you better understand this particular medical condition or process, and may contain information about medication often used as part of a treatment plan prescribed by a doctor. It is not intended to be used as either a diagnosis or recommendation for treatment of your particular medical situation. If you are unwell, concerned about your physical or mental state, or are experiencing symptoms you should speak with your doctor or primary health care provider. If you are in medical distress please contact emergency services (such as 911).