Key to Good Health: Exercise for Life
Even though we tend to be most motivated to exercise in our early years, the importance of physical activity increases as we age making a lifetime fitness program essential for youthfulness, mental wellbeing, anti-aging and disease prevention. The old expression that many refer to when speaking of exercise and aging is "use it or lose it". For this reason, experts tell us that it is never too late to start an exercise program, even for the elderly. However, consistency pays off, as long periods without physical activity can be harder to overcome. So if you want to stay healthy throughout your life, exercise must be an important part of your lifestyle and routine.
When we’re in our 20’s, most of us are motivated to exercise for aesthetic and energy reasons. We want to achieve a fit body, lose weight, maintain energy to do all the activities we desire, and keep our sex life active. Working out hard 5 to 6 times per week is the norm at this age and it can be a great time to explore many physical exercise programs and activities due to resiliency.
In our 30’s, life tends to get busier as career and family pressures increase. Time tends to be the issue and many adults decrease their exercise significantly. However, this is a key decade for building strength and setting the tone for your health after 40. It’s also important to keep your weight at normal levels and focus on good whole-food nutrition at this time to avoid developing chronic diseases later in life.
In the 40s and beyond, stretching, strength training, flexibility, balance exercises and cardiovascular activity all become equally important. A whole body approach to exercise will help you to prevent muscle loss (which is more from lack of use than age), increase your fitness level, lower cholesterol levels, and support you in avoiding both minor illnesses and more serious chronic diseases. You’re also likely to add years to your life by being consistent, regardless of the amount of exercise your body or schedule are able to support in any particular moment of your life.
Benefits of Exercise
Both mental and physical wellbeing are influenced by exercise. From a mental perspective, exercise helps to lift one’s mood, keep the mind sharp, reduce stress, improve sleep patterns and lift self-esteem. Exercise boosts serotonin and dopamine levels, providing an overall happier perspective on life. Since mental well-being relates to physical well-being, especially in regards to stress, each of these factors also plays an important role in disease prevention.
By committing to exercise for life, you’ll keep your muscles from becoming weak, ensure your organs function efficiently, prevent joint stiffness and injury, and reduce your risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, type II diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, high cholesterol and obesity. Exercise will also keep you mobile, energetic, attractive and improve bone density. Contrary to the common belief that exercise is risky for the elderly, it actually reduces the risk of injury and lessons pain. Exercise also supports aging adults in keeping their sense of balance to prevent falls. And the good news is that it is never too late to start.
Listen to Your Body
The important part to remember about exercise for life is to listen to your body. Naturally as you age your body won’t be able to do what it was able to do in your 20’s without increased effort. You’ll need to patient with your body and work towards your goals slowly and with awareness. If your body feels tired, don’t push it beyond its limits. If you do, you may cause injuries that will need to heal before resuming exercise. You may also find that lower impact exercise is more comfortable as you get older and changes occur with your joints and heart rate.
Keep in mind that there are many factors to take into account when formulating a workout plan and age is only one of them. Individuals vary in relation to the level of exercise that is safe for them. Stretching is also important for blood circulation, preventing calcium deposits, and keeping muscles elastic and flexible. Keep in mind too that there are many different forms of exercise, including yoga and other movement oriented activities that can be highly beneficial regardless of age. Variety, as with all things in life, ensures the most success when it comes to exercise.
 Kravitz, L. (n.d.) The age anecdote. Retrieved from http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/age.html
 (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/fit-and-40-plus?page=4
 Dorsey, N. (n.d.) Fight fat at any age: exercises for your 20s, 30s, and 40s. Retrieved from http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/lose-weight/burn-fat/fight-fat-at-any-age-exercises-for-your-20s-30s-and-40s/
 Mercola, J. (2011, December 16). 80-year olds with 40-year old muscle mass - what’s going on? Retrieved from http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2011/12/16/you-dont-have-to-lose-muscle-as-you-age.aspx
Kara wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Food & Nutrition.