To age well you have to move your body. Here are the best ways to do it.
We all want to live a long time with the ability to take care of ourselves. It’s important to eat right to keep our organs working properly and boost our immune systems. We should also keep our minds active, learning new things to keep our brains in shape.
If we had to pick one lifestyle habit that gives the most bang for the buck in preventing the most severe problems with aging, it would be regular physical activity. A Harvard study spanning 30 years gave the most dramatic proof of how exercise reverses aging, and we’ll detail it a couple paragraphs down.
The obvious benefit of regular exercise is mobility maintenance, but it also prevents disease, promotes better sleep, gives us more energy, and improves mood. All those things help us age better in general. To maximize the benefits of exercise for slowing down the aging process, there are four “magic pills” that keep us young in different ways.
A 1966 study at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School measured the resting heart rates, blood pressure, heart pumping output, body fat, and muscle strength of five healthy 20-year-olds. Then they put them on bed-rest for three weeks to see what effect inactivity would have. All the subjects agreed to be looked at again 30 years later.
When they got up, their measurements were equivalent to men twice their age. Then, after an eight-week exercise program, their measurements were reversed, and in some cases, better than before the study. The more dramatic findings came to light 30 years later, in 1996.
Before altering any life-style choices researchers measured the same biological functions they had before. The measurements were not as good as after the exercise program, but much better than after the bed rest. That showed the fact that inactivity is worse for the body than time. That was not the end of the study.
The bed rest was skipped this time, in order not to endanger the now 50-year-olds’ health, but instead the subjects undertook an aerobic exercise program that consisted of regular walking, jogging, and biking over the course of six months.
The average weight loss was ten pounds, but dramatic improvements were seen in resting heart rates, blood pressures, and heart pumping capacity. In those areas, the same people had better numbers than before they went on the bed-rest at age 20.
Actively working our muscles builds back the muscle mass we lose as we age. We all want to be able to do our own yardwork, carry our own groceries, and pick up heavy objects as long into old age as possible, and that’s what strength training helps us do. It also keeps our bones from weakening, lowers blood sugar, reduces back and joint pain, and improves posture.
The aim should be two or three times per week, with exercise like squats and lunges for the legs and bicep curls, flies, and tricep curls for the arms. If unsure where to start, you can take a session with a personal trainer or just look up some recommendations online from a trusted source, basing your research on age and ability.
As we age, we naturally become less supple, and flexibility is essential in preventing muscle cramps, strains, joint pain, and falling. Our muscles get shorter as we get older, so we need to stretch them out to increase our range of motion and lower our pain and injury risk.
Stretch at least three or four times per week, and warm up first with some type of steady movement such as marching in place while doing arm circles. Then hold stretches for about a minute with all muscle groups: shoulders, back calves, hamstrings, hip-flexors, and quadriceps.
This is the type of exercise that often gets overlooked. The systems that control our balance; vision, leg muscles and joints, and inner ear, break down with age unless we do something about it. We all want to be steady on our feet as we age, and balance training is what makes that happen.
Tai chi and yoga are great for this, and most gyms and senior centers offer classes. You can even find those types of workouts on DVDs or You-Tube videos. Physical therapy after falls includes balance training and the person should keep doing the exercise after the therapy is over. Even standing on one foot once in a while helps with balance, and there are plenty of exercises to look up online as well.
It’s best to start maintaining balance before it becomes a problem, but it’s definitely not too late after troubles set in; just get advice from a professional first.