We could fill an entire book with the benefits of exercise for aging bodies and minds. There are countless studies on the enormous advantages it offers. In fact, research from the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology shows cardiovascular fitness is a better predictor of how long you’ll live than chronological age.
But I’ll spare you the book and just touch on a few crucial rewards you can expect from sticking with an exercise routine.
Strength training in people over 60 increases muscle mass, strength and response time. According to a meta-analysis in the European Review of Aging and Physical Activity, resistance training is an effective way to improve body fat mass, muscle strength and muscle performance in healthy older people with sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss). Specifically, leg strength can support mobility, and hand grip strength is associated with improved clinical outcomes, lower risk of mortality, greater upper body strength and improved bone density.
Moderate exercise for a maximum of 60 minutes can help boost immune system function and reduce risk of infection. However, it’s important to note that intense or prolonged workouts can have the opposite effect, lowering your immunity due to inflammation, oxidative stress and muscle damage. As with most things, moderation is key.
Exercise can reduce levels of pain perception, especially in the context of physical therapy, according to research in the Journal of Physiology. As I mentioned in a previous column about chronic pain, avoiding movement can increase stiffness and pain over time, while safe doses of exercise can keep you agile and flexible. However, rest is crucial for acute injuries or after any activity that causes fatigue. You know your body best, so be sure to listen to pain signals and seek treatment as necessary.
Mood and Cognition
Research shows regular exercise can boost your mood, reduce anxiety and depression, and reduce stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. According to the American Psychological Association, working out increases oxygen and blood supply to the brain, “which leads to enhancement of cognitive processes like thinking and memory, attention span and perception.” One 44-year study published in 2018 found women who exercise through midlife are 90% less likely to develop dementia. In my many years as a personal trainer and health coach, I’ve seen it boost confidence as well, and those positive effects often spread to other areas of life.
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A 2017 meta-study showed that both sleep quality and duration are often improved by regularly engaging in exercise. The evidence of this benefit proved especially “robust” among middle-aged and elderly people. The researchers wrote, “Our review suggests that sleep and exercise exert substantial positive effects on one another.” Basically, it’s a beneficial cycle: You not only sleep better when you exercise, but also exercise better when you sleep.