If it were a pill, exercise would be the miracle drug. Being physically active is one of the most powerful lifestyle choices any individual can make to improve their health and there are a whole array of diseases that people can avoid by participating in exercise, including strong evidence that people who are active have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and dementia. But it’s doesn’t just support our physical health – it’s key to improving our mental health and wellbeing too.
Yet despite the wealth of evidence available along with a booming, multi-billion-pound fitness industry, many of us are still failing to do the minimum physical exertion that we need to stay fit and healthy – with our couch potato lifestyles damaging our health, our relationships and the economy too – blighting the final years of many of our elderly who are living longer but more fragile lives.
We all know that regular exercise is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle, but this is especially true as we age. Keeping physically active makes you feel better all round and leads to a healthier life in general – and whilst it would be best for all of us to lead an active life from as young an age as possible – it’s never too late to start exercising.
These of some of the huge benefits you can reap by keeping active as you age:
- It can reduce the risk of developing chronic illness and disease
Research shows that regular physical activity can help reduce your risk for several diseases and health conditions and improve your overall quality of life, helping to protect you from health problems such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis as well as reducing the risk of some types of cancer. (1) Evidence of the beneficial effects of physical activity in the primary prevention and management of cancer is growing and there is an association between higher levels of physical activity and lower cancer death rates. Research has also found that walking or cycling for at least a half-an-hour a day is associated with a reduction in cancer and that when this is increased to an hour cancer incidence falls by 16 per cent.
If you have a chronic health condition that you are already living with, such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, or back or joint pain then regular exercise can help you manage the symptoms and improve your health. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor before embarking on an exercise routine if you are living with a health condition.
- It can improve sleep
Physical activity improves sleep quality and increases sleep duration. Exercise may also bolster sleep in other ways, because it reduces your stress levels and tires you out. Studies indicate that sleep may receive some of its most significant benefits from exercise that is consistent and routine over time, especially for people who experience difficulty sleeping, and contrary to the belief that exercise in the evening is associated with poorer sleep quality, it would appear that exercising at any time of the day is good for sleep. (2)
- It improves energy levels
Fighting fatigue is something many of us experience as we age, but this can be improved significantly by participating in regular exercise. A study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics reported that inactive people who normally complained of fatigue could increase energy by 20% and decrease fatigue by as much as 65% by simply participating in regular, low-intensity exercise. (3)
Exercise boosts your energy levels by training the heart to work more efficiently, allowing more oxygen to reach your brain and your blood stream, allowing your blood to circulate more efficiently and bringing more oxygen to your muscles, which increases function and heightened energy production throughout your body.
So, if you want to feel 10 years younger then simply try improving your aerobic capacity by as little as 15-25% each day to start feeling the difference.
- It helps you to achieve a greater sense of wellbeing
Physical activity produces endorphins – these are chemicals that are produced at the base of your brain and, when released, they produce feelings of pain relief and well-being. You don’t need to exercise strenuously to release these endorphins – even moderate or light exercise will release them and have an effect on your mood. These endorphins also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.
Regular exercise can boost your mood if you have depression and is especially useful for people with mild-moderate depression or anxiety. Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep and improve self-esteem.
- It can help you to stay independent for longer
Mobility is a very valuable gift and one we should appreciate and look after our whole lives, as losing it can be devastating. Regular exercise can help us to remain strong, active and mobile. According to NHS UK, many adults aged 65 and over spend on average, 10 hours or more each day sitting or lying down, making them the most sedentary age group, they are paying the price for their inactivity too with higher rates of falls, obesity and heart disease.
As we are all living to a much older age than we used to, staying physically active will also help us to stay independent for much longer and live out our golden years in the best way possible – remaining mobile and continuing to do all the things we take for granted – going on walks, playing with our grandchildren, travelling without aid – and so on.
- Weight management
Losing weight gets harder as you age, this is primarily because our metabolism slows down – this occurs because you lose muscle as you age which plays a crucial part in maintaining your metabolism – this means you may not be able to maintain the same dietary behaviours you previously did in your younger years without gaining weight.
Participating in exercise to compliment a healthy eating regime will help you to maintain a healthy weight and whilst exercise is often advised for weight loss, what you should really aim for is fat loss as most of the benefits of exercise will come from improvements in body composition, overall fitness and metabolic health, not just weight loss. Consistency for weight management, as with everything else, is key – in order to efficiently lose fat – you must be active on a regular basis each week while also making sure you give your body enough time to recover in between.
- Improves muscle mass
Once we hit 45-50 years old we start to lose around 1% of our muscle mass every year – meaning by the time we hit 65 we could have lost up to a quarter of our total muscle mass! If we let this go unchecked then that means we will lose strength, and our ability to do all the everyday things we take for granted such as running, walking, bending and carrying etc could be hindered, which leads to us becoming less mobile. However, exercise can slow down this process dramatically and many scientific studies have proved that combining exercise with a higher intake of very healthy protein, can help maintain our muscles and also increase our strength too, which must be the right direction to take if we are to remain healthy and active for as long as possible.
- Improves skin condition
Regular exercise is key to maintaining healthy skin as it promotes a healthy circulation. Maximising blood supply to the skin means more efficient delivery of key nutrients and oxygen to the surface of the skin, which gives the skin a healthy glow and a plumper appearance. It also helps to carry waste products away from working cells in the skin – flushing cellular debris including free radicals out of the system – effectively cleansing your skin from the inside. A poor blood supply can lead to duller, less hydrated skin that in turn can lead to premature ageing of the skin. There are also reports that exercise can help with collagen production – although there is no real evidence to back this up as things stand.
The best way to improve your blood flow to your skin is through participating in regular cardiovascular exercise and by keeping hydrated – so try to keep active with at least 3-4 half hour sessions per week and ensure you are drinking plenty of liquids.