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10 Reasons to Keep Fit as You Age

A lot of us don't get the kind of day-to-day physical activity we need, so are physically "unfit." "Physical activity" means any movement of the body that is made by skeletal muscles – and requires energy to accomplish. "Physical fitness" means the ability of a person to do physical activity. Physical fitness can be measured by determining endurance, power and flexibility.

How physically independent you are depends on how well you can function physically. That is one of the best reasons to stay physically active – but it's not the only reason. Here's a list of 10 reasons why you should make physical activity a part of your everyday life.

To be safe, talk with your doctor before you start or add to an exercise plan. Even a little bit of exercise will help.

1. It increases bone density and limits osteoporosis.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis affects more than 10 million men and women while an additional 34 million Americans have low bone mass, putting them at risk for developing osteoporosis. The disease makes your bones weak and brittle. Exercise increases bone strength. The best kinds of exercise to make bones stronger are weight-bearing exercises like walking, and resistance exercises such as lifting weights. But you don't need to become a competitive walker or body builder. Just living an active lifestyle will help your bones stay strong. (You also need vitamin D and calcium for good bone health.)

2. It helps you stay independent.

The point of being active is to maintain your ability to function. Studies show that people who exercise over their lifetimes can avoid being disabled at the end of their lives. Those who don't exercise, if they live long enough, are sure to experience disability.

3. It increases metabolism.

Metabolism measures how your body handles and uses nutrients. Strength training increases muscle mass, which raises metabolism. One benefit is that your body uses more of the calories you take in because your resting metabolic rate increases. That leads to less body fat and makes it easier to control your weight. Just being a few pounds overweight puts you at high risk for many health problems.

4. It reduces your risk for falls.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that exercise lets you practice keeping your balance and reacting to things around you. The second is that exercise can help arrest a natural decline in muscle fitness. Exercise will keep your muscles fit.

5. It makes you more flexible.

Doing things that put your body through the full range of movement helps keep it flexible. These activities don't need to be structured; any kind of activity is going to produce results. Some examples include: walking instead of driving, or raking leaves instead of using a blower.

6. It's a reason to be sociable.

Exercise groups are a good way to meet people. Since one of the best strategies for increasing your activity is to do it in a group, exercise can lead to new friends. Check at the community center or local health club for special exercise groups for seniors. You can also ask your friends to join you.

7. It improves your mood.

Exercise is good for your mind. Studies show it reduces depression. It can also lift your self-esteem. Being physically active can help you improve your sense of what you can do.

8, 9 and 10. It helps your entire body.

It improves the way your lungs work, helps prevent and control diabetes and is good for your heart. All of the body's systems deteriorate with age, but much of that can be attributed to a lack of physical activity. Exercise can slow the breakdown. Being active will help you live well.

Four types of exercise

These four types of exercise are the most important, according to the National Institute on Aging:

  • Endurance. These exercises boost heart rate and breathing over a period of time. They are good for the heart, lungs and circulation. They also help prevent or delay some diseases. Examples are: walking, running, biking, swimming, dancing, or any other activity done without stopping for a period of time.

  • Strength training. Some examples are: weight training or body weight exercises such as push ups or pull ups. Lifting weights make older adults strong enough to do what they need to do–and like to do.

  • Balance. These exercises help prevent falls, a major cause of disability in older adults. Try practicing balancing on one foot trying to increase the length of time one is able to do it over time and then adding some movement of the eyes or hands to make it more difficult.

  • Stretching. Some examples are: flexibility exercises, yoga, tai chi, Pilates, anything that makes one try to increase the range of motion of a joint. These exercises help keep the body limber and flexible.

A winning program

These tips can help you be successful at exercise:

  • Schedule your exercise time just as you do other activities. It should be a normal part of your day.

  • Start out slow and increase your pace gradually.

  • Persuade a friend to exercise with you. A friend can provide the motivation to stick with a program because you know the person is counting on you to be there.

  • To prevent boredom, vary what you do for exercise.

  • Add physical activity to your day-to-day activities, such as using the stairs instead of the elevator and parking farther from your destination to get a longer walk in.