The benefits of exercise are undeniable for people of all ages. However, more and more research supports the need for continued exercise as we age.
The physical benefits of exercise have long been touted, but new research even seems to support that continued exercise later in life has the added benefit of slowing cognitive decline and memory loss. In a recent study out of the United Kingdom, persons over the age of 70 were studied. The group who reported the most physical activity tended to have larger brains and less brain atrophy. In another study, 120 older adults without dementia began an exercise routine that included walking at a moderate pace for 30-45 minutes 3-4 times per week versus non-aerobic, stretching exercises. A year later, MRI brain scans showed an area involved in memory, the hippocampus, was larger in the walking group.
If such evidence about the cognitive benefits of exercise as we age is not enough, there are plenty of other reasons to exercise.
Improved heart and lung function are long recognized benefits of aerobic exercise.
Exercise, particularly resistance training (weight training), has been shown to combat age related muscle loss. Battling this muscle loss has translated to improved function. In a study of nursing home residents, mostly in their 80’s to 90’s, resistance training for 10 weeks increased walking speed, improved stair climbing ability, and decreased symptoms of depression.
Numerous forms of exercise have proven effective for treatment of osteoporosis with many studies showing an increase in bone density for the exercise group. At best, managing osteoporosis with medication alone can only maintain current bone mass and prevent further loss, with far greater side effects.
Even if you find that resistance training or aerobic exercise does not appeal to you, numerous studies have found that the practice of Tai Chi can promote health benefits including improved strength and balance, lower blood pressure, improved arthritis pain, and stress reduction.
If you find that a pain complaint or injury is preventing you from exercise, no matter what your age, I encourage you to consult a physician to get on the road to a more active, fulfilling life.
Dr. Deborah A. Bergfeld is no longer in practice with The San Antonio Orthopaedic Group. To schedule an appointment with another physical medicine & rehabilitation physician, please call 210.281.9595.