The Benefits and Importance of Exercise for Seniors
Updated: May 16
Question: How do you maintain fitness and add healthy years to your life? Answer: Be active, exercise.
The main thing – the “magic bullet,” if you will – for the maintenance of optimal health as you age is the combination of both physical activity and proper nutrition. Exercise benefits your entire body, including both physical and mental health. Proper nutrition, too, is an important part of your arsenal. Here are some of the major health benefits of good exercise for seniors:
Seniors are at higher risk of several diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension. Exercise plays a promising role in maintaining your heart health, and an active lifestyle helps control blood pressure. Health experts believe that physical activity aids in reducing the overall cholesterol level of your body, increasing the ratio of HDL (good cholesterol) to LDL (bad cholesterol). Several studies have revealed that exercise improves overall immune functions in senior-age citizens. Moreover, regular physical activity decreases stress, anxiety and depression, which are contributing factors to many illnesses, such as neuropsychiatric and sleeping disorders.
Here are other declining-health issues that proper exercise can help prevent:
Arthritis (inflammation of joints)
Diabetes type 2
Certain cancers (colorectal, breast and uterine)
Improves mental health
Exercise provides several benefits to your brain in old age. Physical activity enhances the release of certain chemicals (endorphins) in your brain, making you feel happy, calm and relaxed. Besides, exercise also improves your sleep, which is very important for seniors who suffer from disturbed sleeping patterns or insomnia.
Reduces the risk of falls
There is a higher risk of falls as we age, which can dramatically impact your independence. As seniors take a longer time to recover from injuries, it is important to maintain bone health, which can aid recuperation. Exercise is the best way to maintain your flexibility, strength, coordination and balance, which ultimately helps to prevent the risk of falls.
Encourages social engagement
As noted earlier, exercise can help to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. These burdensome feelings are more prevalent in seniors, but can be curtailed with the proper regimen. Exercise can be a source of fun, and walking groups, fitness classes, park visits and even simple stretching activities with friends can bring enjoyment and freshness to your everyday life. Research has revealed that strong social ties are crucial as we age, counteracting the ill effects of depression and loneliness.
Improves cognitive functions
Regular physical activity can improve the motor skills that benefit your cognitive functions. Several studies have found that exercise can reduce the risk of dementia in senior populations, and additional research investigating the mental benefits to seniors has revealed that aerobic exercises are effective in improving attention span, cognitive speed and motor functions of senior-aged people.
Here are some simple and easy recommendations for exercise that the National Health Services has offered for senior citizens:
Be physically active daily – this can include light housekeeping, stretching, gardening.
If light exercise is not enough, your routine may include 20 minutes a day of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 10 minutes a day of high-intensity workout. Preferred aerobic exercises include a brisk walk, swimming, dancing, jogging and running.
Reduce your “still” time. Get up and go out: do some shopping, get your hair cut, walk around the block or your community, participate in group activities.
The bottom line
Exercise continues to be important to your good health as you age. It maintains your physical and mental health and reduces the risk of several diseases, such as dementia, heart problems and hypertension. It also improves your cognitive functions, which decline with age. So, make exercise and physical activity an important part of your daily routine.
About the Authors
Dr. Christopher Zambakari, B.S., MBA, M.I.S., LP.D.
Dr. Zambakari is the owner and operator of Desert Haven Home Care in Phoenix and Apollo Assisted Living in Glendale. He provides experienced direction and oversight to ensure the care facilities provide the highest levels of customized care, administered by respectful licensed medical and caregiving professionals.
Nathalia Zambakari, Board Certified AGACNP-BC
Nathalia Zambakari is a board-certified Acute Care Nurse Practitioner and a licensed medical professional responsible for short-term care patients suffering from severe conditions. As part of the Desert Haven/Apollo care team, she reviews the medical records of incoming residents, helping the professional staff to manage patient regimens, and performs caregiver education to ensure the best care possible for the communities’ residents.
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2. Galloza, J., Castillo, B. and Micheo, W., 2017. Benefits of exercise in the older population. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics, 28(4), pp.659-669.
3. Lee, P.G., Jackson, E.A. and Richardson, C.R., 2017. Exercise prescriptions in older adults. American family physician, 95(7), pp.425-432.
4. National Health Services. Physical activity guidelines for older adults. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/physical-activity-guidelines-older-adults/