You already know that exercise is essential for your heart and overall health. Now, a new study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise has quantified the powerful impact exercise can have on the length of your life.
For this study, researchers looked at data collected in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study which included 3,000 participants ages 50-79. All of the study participants wore highly sensitive activity trackers, called accelerometers, for seven days. Then, they compared the participants' activity levels with recorded deaths during the following eight years. What they found is that the participants who had the lowest level of activity were five times more likely to have died during the follow-up period than those participants who had the highest activity level. Those with the lowest level of activity were also three times more likely to have died than those who had moderate activity levels.
There's no question that inactivity is a prominent risk factor for many health problems, and even minimal amounts of regular activity can have immediate benefits. Plus, for seniors the benefits of exercise go far beyond good cardiovascular health, increasing strength and flexibility so you can stay independent in your senior years.
What Type of Exercise Should You Do?
My answer is always the one that you will enjoy and stick with for the long-term—whether it’s walking, tennis, dancing, swimming or another activity you enjoy. My personal favorites are pilates and yoga, which are good for range of motion, flexibility, and strength.
But regardless of the type of activity you choose, here are some tips to get you started:
- If you haven’t exercised in a long time and you have a medical condition such as osteoarthritis or cardiovascular disease, talk to your doctor about what kind of limits you may need to abide by. You don’t want to take on more than your body can handle. Also, consider having your feet checked for irregularities that require shoe inserts.
- Start slowly and pace yourself. Should you experience shortness of breath or pain in your chest or arms, see your doctor as soon as possible. If you feel ill, stop. If symptoms persist after 3–5 minutes of rest, seek medical attention immediately. Symptoms may occur up to an hour after exercising, so be mindful of how you feel as you cool down and resume your regular activities.
- Stay adequately hydrated. When you sweat, you’re not just losing water. Sweating and many common heart medications can drain your electrolytes. Maintaining both healthy levels and the proper balance of electrolytes—potassium, magnesium, and sodium to name a few—is critical for energy production and for sending electrical messages from your brain to your heart, muscles, organs, and cells.
- The joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles aren’t as forgiving as they were when we were younger, and they require an appropriate level of training. If you train with weights—even light ones—you must use correct form to avoid microtrauma and aggravation to joints. A personal trainer who is experienced in working with middle-agers and seniors can help with this. Long term, strengthening the muscles around ailing joints can help reduce pain.
- Warning signs that you may be doing too much exercise include light-headedness or dizziness, palpitations, jaw pain, tingling or numbness in the arms, a tight feeling in the lungs, and shortness of breath (being unable to carry on a conversation).
Now it’s your turn: What are your exercise goals?