5 Reasons why Exercise is Especially Important for Seniors
January 26, 2017
As we age, maintaining fitness becomes more important, while seeming more elusive. Being surrounded by images of young people promoting fitness makes it seem like exercise and fitness are for the younger crowd only, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, staying active and fit is just as beneficial, if not more so, for seniors. Here is why:
1. Resistance training prevents loss of muscle mass
Maintaining muscle mass and strength is important for the ability to perform daily activities. Muscle mass also plays a role in maintaining metabolism as part of keeping a healthy weight. Not surprisingly, individuals who have less muscle mass due to inactivity may be impacted the most by age-related muscle loss.
Creating a habit of regular resistance training as early as possible will reduce the chance of having to deal with loss of function due to diminished muscle strength in old age in otherwise healthy individuals. But even when loss of muscle mass and strength are present it is not too late to start and make improvements in physical function as a result of improved strength and muscle mass.(1)
A whole-body resistance training routine can help build muscle and prevent loss of strength and muscle mass, even in older individuals.
2. Resistance training maintains metabolism through retention of muscle mass
After the age of 30, muscle mass can decrease as much as 5% each decade.(2) Loss of muscle mass is one contributor to decreasing metabolism.
Muscles, albeit not as metabolically active as some other organs such as the brain, heart, and kidneys, require energy for maintenance and repair after resistance training. This extra energy requirement slightly increases one’s total daily energy expenditure and can thus help prevent unwanted weight gain as we age.
3. Weight-bearing exercises prevent loss of bone density
Although men and women of all ages can develop osteoporosis, it is most commonly seen in postmenopausal women. Globally, one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50 will experience bone fractures due to loss of bone density.(3)
Unfortunately, once osteoporosis is established little can be done to completely reverse the loss of bone density, so it is imperative to lay the groundwork for healthy bones before reaching the age of 30, at which point loss of bone density is thought to begin.(4)
A nutritional diet, a healthy lifestyle including moderate sun exposure, and weight-bearing exercise can go a long way in preventing bone loss later in life. Like muscles, provided the right conditions, bones will grow stronger as a result of being subjected to stress. And bones will become less strong from lack of load-bearing, just as muscles will atrophy from disuse.
A number of exercise forms can help prevent loss of bone density, such as running, jumping, or hiking (especially carrying an extra load, e.g. a backpack). However, these types of exercise will often not provide much load to the bones in the upper extremities.
When it comes to strengthening the bones in the upper and lower body, a well-designed resistance training program will safely strengthen the entire musculoskeletal system. An additional bonus of muscle-strengthening exercise is its protective effect on joints, potentially preventing pain and debilitation from arthritis.
4. Balance exercises can reduce the risk of falls
As we age our balance tends to deteriorate, and falls are unfortunately common in the geriatric population. Falls can lead to bone fractures. Naturally, the risk of fracture is higher when the bones are brittle, as is the case in individuals with osteoporosis; but it is obviously desirable to reduce fall risk even when there are no bone abnormalities.
Loss of balance in older adults is often caused by pathology in the inner ear, causing faulty perception of balance and spatial orientation. Fortunately, research has shown that improving balance through exercise is possible despite age-related changes in balance ability.(5,6) Strength training has also shown positive outcomes in lowering fall rates in elderly patients.(7)
This shows that exercise is important as an adequate sense of balance can not only prevent falls, but also maintain confidence in movement and enable independent living.
5. Exercise can maintain cognitive function and prevent memory loss
It is thought that improving blood flow to the brain through exercise has a protective function against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown that individuals with already established impaired cognitive function who started to exercise regularly improved cognitive scores.(8,9,10)
It is clear that regular activity is important in all stages of life. Creating regular exercise habits early in life makes a solid foundation for good health later in life. But even when starting later in life, well-planned and consistent exercise can bring about positive changes which become increasingly important as the risk of health problems appearing increases with age.
1. Mayer, F., Scharhag-Rosenberger, F., Carlsohn, A., Cassel, M., Müller, S., & Scharhag, J. (2011). The intensity and effects of strength training in the elderly. Deutsches Arzteblatt International, 108(21), . Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3117172/
2. Sarcopenia with aging. (2016, July 6). Retrieved January 26, 2017, from WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/sarcopenia-with-aging?page=2
3. Facts and statistics. (2015). Retrieved January 25, 2017, from International Osteoporosis Foundation, https://www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics
4. Baethge, B. A. Bone loss causes, symptoms, treatment - what causes bone loss? Retrieved January 25, 2017, from emedicinehealth, http://www.emedicinehealth.com/what_is_bone_loss/page3_em.htm
5. Kuptniratsaikul, V., Praditsuwan, R., Assantachai, P., Ploypetch, T., Udompunturak, S., & Pooliam, J. (2011). Effectiveness of simple balancing training program in elderly patients with history of frequent falls. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 6, . Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3095557/
6. Madureira, M. M., Takayama, L., Gallinaro, A. L., Caparbo, V. F., Costa, R. A., & Pereira, R. M. R. (2006). Balance training program is highly effective in improving functional status and reducing the risk of falls in elderly women with osteoporosis: A randomized controlled trial. Osteoporosis International, 18(4), . Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1820755/
7. Ishigaki, E. Y., Ramos, L. G., Carvalho, E. S., & Lunardi, A. C. (2014). Effectiveness of muscle strengthening and description of protocols for preventing falls in the elderly: A systematic review. Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy, 18(2), . Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4183251/
8. Ahlskog, E. J., Geda, Y. E., Graff-Radford, N. R., & Petersen, R. C. (2011). Physical exercise as a preventive or disease-modifying treatment of dementia and brain aging. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 86(9), . Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3258000/
9. Müller, J., Chan, K., & Myers, J. (2017). Association between exercise capacity and late onset of dementia, Alzheimer disease, and cognitive impairment. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28082018
10. Cass, S. (2017). Alzheimer’s disease and exercise: A literature review. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 16(1), 19–22. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28067736