By, Sean Light CSCS
As your age increases, it is a common belief that your health naturally declines but it doesn’t have to be that way. In reality, as most people grow older, they become more sedentary in their lifestyle and pair that with poor nutritional habits and that’s what causes a decline in your health. Science has shed light on the vast benefits of diet and exercise on your body, and as you age the adoption of a healthy lifestyle becomes increasingly critical.
Dr. Len Kravitz (not the singer) of the University of New Mexico has associated poor levels of physical activity in senior citizens with increases in fatigue, poor mental health, depression, anxiety, disease, and low self-esteem. Kravitz also notes that those who are active have developed greater resistance to certain cancers, heart disease, type II diabetes, osteoporosis and high cholesterol.
Including exercise, even just three or four times a week, can have a significant impact on your strength and overall health. It is possible to see a great leap in strength in the first few weeks of exercise. This is because much of your strength can be attributed to your brain. In order to use your muscles, your body must recruit motor units, which are a collection of motor neurons and muscle fibers that provide force for all muscle movement. If you are consistently lifting heavy loads, the stressed muscles will recruit more motor units from the brain in order to increase this force production. However if you don’t continue to exercise, you will have to start this process all over again.
In addition to these rewards, the risk of injuries and dependency on long term health care decreases while including exercise in your daily routine.
Of course with the inclusion of a fitness program into your life, the risk of injury becomes prevalent. This is why it is very important to include a light 10-15 minute warm-up period as well as a 10-15 minute cool down period after your workout.
With age, comes a greater risk of injury in several areas. Two of the most critical bodily issues that demand attention in seniors are the greater risk of dehydration and the difficulty to adapt to temperature changes. Therefore staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise, as well as keeping your body at a comfortable temperature through climate control or layers of clothing is imperative.
Now that you know some facts about the benefits of exercise, let’s discuss what kind of exercise to do. Obviously mature adults have no need to get in the weight room and workout like a Navy SEAL. You don’t have to do 300 pushups or bench press 500 pounds. Simple stretching, calisthenics, and resistance training is enough to have a strong impact on your overall well-being. Products such as resistance bands are cheap but effective ways to do simple strength training. These bands also provide a variety of resistance levels which cater to all fitness levels. Also, exercises like neck rolls, shoulder shrugs, arm circles, waist bends, ankle circles and other simple movements are all great ways stay active.
Most importantly is your cardiovascular health. Cardio exercise provides a whole body workout and has a wide array of benefits. As you age, typical cardiovascular exercise such as running becomes more of a risk on your joints. Walking is a great way to get your cardio in. Take a walk each day and the benefits will be clear. According to Caitlin Johnson, writer for CBS News, walking can protect your heart, burn calories, and improve your mental health.
Along with exercise, your diet is just as important. In today’s world of processed foods, we must watch what we put into our bodies. Food companies are tricking consumers with ingredients such as “High Fructose Corn Syrup” and “Partially Hydrogenated Oils.” Both ingredients are found in tons of products, including many so called “healthy” foods. “High Fructose Corn Syrup” tricks the brain into thinking the stomach isn’t as full as it is, and “Partially Hydrogenated Oil”, another word for trans fat, is a man made product that is difficult to digest and goes straight to the heart.
With food companies adding dangerous ingredients in their processed foods, the more natural and organic foods you eat, the better off you will be. With a healthy combination of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, you can develop your own personalized diet without the strict rules found in other popular regimens. You can even enhance your diet by including tricks such as increase your fiber intake which will keep you fuller, longer.
Once you have developed a good diet and exercise program, the next step is sticking to it. How can you stay motivated when you’re not training for the Olympics or about to go into NFL Training Camp? Well you can workout for yourself, for your life. Research has proven that mature adults who are active have an increased life expectancy than those who are not.
Secondly make your own workout. Choose the exercises that you like best and track your progress. If you keep a record of your results, you can see the improvements that you are making and these gains can keep you coming back for more.
Lastly working out can make you feel good. Literally. Exercise releases a chemical in your body called endorphins, which, when released, send your body into a low level state of euphoria or a natural high.
If you can focus and stick to your diet and exercise goals, your health will improve, and more importantly your mental health will improve.
Kravitz, Dr. Len. “The Age Antidote.” http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/age.html
Michigan’s Governor’s Council. “Importance Of Physical Activity for the Elderly.”http://www.mdch.state.mi.us/pha/vipf/eldText.htm#Basis
Johnson, Caitlin A. “The Power of Walking.” 2007.http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/01/21/sunday/main2381279.shtml
National Strength and Conditioning Association. “Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning.” 2000.