In talking with women who are going through the menopausal transition, I’ve found that we’re beginning to think differently about exercise. Our determination to exercise is evolving from wanting to keep a cute figure to wanting to be able to keep up with our teenage children or our grandchildren. Whereas we previously focused on avoiding cellulite, we now are looking to maintain bone health. And instead of being focused on doing extreme sports, many of us increasingly want to ensure that we are able to walk and not fall. And in some cases, we’re trying to push away more from the desks (and the television sets) and be physically active because we realize that time is ticking and we want to do everything we can to be able to live a full and active life.
Why is it important to be physically active as we age? And how much activity should we strive for as we age? Let me answer the first question first through the results of a new study out of the University of Florida. This study tested whether a long-term structured physical activity program is more effective than a health education program in decreasing the loss of mobility, which, in turn, increases the risk of disease and death.
Researchers followed 1,635 participants from urban, suburban and rural communities who enrolled in the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study between February 2010 and December 2011. At the start of the study, these participants were between the ages of 70 and 89, sedentary and had some physical limitations, but were able to walk about one-quarter mile. They took part in the study for an average of 2.6 years.
The participants were grouped into two groups. The first group, which involved 818 participants, participated in a structured, moderate-intensity physical activity program that included aerobic, resistance and flexibility training activities. This group went to sessions at a clinic twice a week and then participated in the exercise program at home 3-4 additional times a week. The second group participated in a 26-week health education program where they took part in workshops on topics that were relevant to older adults and participated in upper extremity stretching exercises. Once the 26-week period was over, the participants participated in monthly meetings.
The researchers found that by the end of the study, the participants who participated in the physical activity program had an 18-percent reduced risk of major mobility disability when compared to the education-only group. Additionally, the exercise group was more likely to maintain their ability to walk without assistance for approximately a quarter of a mile.
This study reinforces the need as we age to embrace an exercise program that includes aerobic, resistance, balance and flexibility activities. Here are some examples of each type of exercise:
- Aerobic (also known as endurance) - These exercises increase your heart rate and breathing when done for an extended period of time and will make it easier for you to keep walking farther, faster and uphill. Examples of these exercises include jogging, walking, swimming, raking, sweeping, dancing and playing tennis. You should try to do 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days of the week.
- Strength exercises – These exercises help you build muscle, which makes it easier to get up from a chair, climb stairs, open jars and carry groceries. You can do these exercises using hand weights, resistance bands or household objects. Star with light weights and gradually increase the amount of weight you use. Try to exercise all of your major muscle groups at least twice a week for 30-minute sessions. However, don’t exercise the same muscle group on two consecutive days.
- Balance exercises – These exercises help you prevent falls and avoid disability. A great example is a tai chi workout. You also can do balance exercises using a chair as a support.
- Flexibility exercises – Stretching exercises help you keep your freedom of movement, which can help you do things like getting dressed or turn to look for an oncoming car while driving. These exercises will improve your flexibility but won’t improve endurance or strength. Yoga is a great example of this type of exercise (plus many poses require balance and strength).
As you’re going through menopause, it’s really important to start commit – or recommit - to your exercise routine. These good habits will go a long way toward helping you remain mobile and healthy as you age.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
National Institute on Aging. (2014). Exercise & physical activity: Your everyday guide from the National Institute on Aging.
National Institutes of Health. (2014). Physical activity helps seniors stay mobile.
Pathor, M., et al. (2014). Effect of structured physical activity on prevention of major mobility disability in older adults: the LIFE study randomized clinical trial. JAMA.
Published On: July 15, 2014