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Aging Well: Could Exercise Be The Fountain Of Youth?

Feb 06, 2015
written by: Catherine Cameron
written by: Catherine Cameron
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Some of you may know that I’m a former personal trainer and have also led fitness classes for over 26 years. In helping others set and work towards their healthy lifestyle goals, I’ve developed a particular interest in exercise as tool in the prevention and management of disease; as a treatment option for those with anxiety and depression; and as it relates to functional fitness and aging.

Regular physical activity is important to our physical and mental health – and older adults are no exception. In fact, regardless of their health and physical abilities, older adults, even those with limited mobility, can reap tremendous benefits from exercise. These benefits include:

  • Maintaining and improving physical fitness (endurance, strength and flexibility)
  • Improved balance and coordination (fewer falls and faster recoveries)
  • Prevention and management of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, breast and colon cancers, and osteoporosis
  • Reduced incidence/effective treatment of anxiety and depression
  • Maintained or improved cognitive function
  • Retention of functional fitness (ability to perform the tasks of everyday living) and independence

When it comes to exercise, it’s important to select activities that maintain or increase endurance (like dancing or brisk walking); that maintain or build muscle strength (for activities like carrying groceries); and that promote balance and flexibility (like standing on one foot, or yoga). Happily, even if you’ve never led a particularly active life, there are countless benefits to changing your ways regardless of your age. In fact, reviewing some of the more recent research on exercise and aging has convinced me that our older years are no time to slow down.  Interested in taking up tennis? Good choice! It’s a lifetime sport that can be adapted to the needs of participants of all ages and abilities.

Here are some interesting facts that have emerged from recent research:

  • Unhealthy habits appear to speed up cell death and the release of damaging substances from these dying cells. Research has demonstrated for the first time, that exercise can prevent or delay this process of aging; that lifestyle choices play a major role in cell aging; and that exercise may help guard against aging by interfering with the rate at which cells die.
  • Despite so many Canadians experiencing high levels of stress, fewer than half use exercise as a tool to help manage it.  Adopting this healthy practice can help prevent the onset of many diseases, leading to better health now and into the future.
    Women in particular would benefit from prescriptions for exercise, according to a study that advises moderate to high intensity activity is essential to reducing the risk of death in older women.
  • More is now understood about the ability of exercise to stave off cognitive decline and in relation to cognitive function and brain health. Worldwide, a new case of dementia is diagnosed every four seconds. The message is clear: regular aerobic activity is essential… so up and at it!
  • A recent study of over 334,000 European men and women found that twice as many deaths may be attributable to lack of physical activity compared with those attributable to obesity. The study also concluded that even a modest increase in physical activity offers significant health benefits. Watch your waistline, but regardless of your belt size, get moving.
  • The bottom line, as summarized in dozens of studies, is that those who exercise, on average, live longer than those who don’t. They also have a lower risk of heart disease, depression, high blood pressure, stroke, colon and breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, depression, falls and mental decline.

For more reasons to choose an active lifestyle, see my recent post, 52 Reasons to be Active in 2015. Let us know which ones motivate you @Cate_Cameron and @Tennis_Canada.