Have you ever wondered: What’s the point of getting fit at my age? I’ve been sedentary for years…would regular exercise really make that much of a difference in my health now? Is it worth the effort?
Thankfully, more research is confirming the payoffs of exercise at any age. Even if you’re 55+ and starting from scratch, making exercise a part of your routine offers a wealth of physical, mental, and quality of life benefits both now and in the years to come. In fact, a large study of British men and women found that in terms of healthy aging, those who began exercising in mid-life fared nearly as well as those who had been physically active all along. Wow.
Another exciting study links just 6 months of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise training, 3 times a week with significantly increased brain volume in previously sedentary older adults. These results suggest a loss of brain volume — and, consequently, function — may be related more to a decrease in physical activity with age rather than age itself. Becoming and staying active not only protects and preserves the brain, but can restore it as well.
Are you ready to enhance your well-being and start aging well? Follow these steps for starting or re-starting an exercise program:
- Get cleared. Visit your health care provider to talk about your fitness plan. Specifically ask which types of exercise to avoid, if any — and if there are any specific safety precautions you should follow.
- Choose cardio. There are many good reasons to do strength training, but both of the studies mentioned here focused on the benefits of cardiovascular exercise — large group, rhythmic activities like walking, running, biking, swimming, elliptical, rowing, and some group fitness formats like water, cycling, step, and vigorous dance workouts.
- Start slow. Start with what you can comfortably manage, and gradually work towards an initial goal of 30 minutes, 5 times a week. Increase your total time or mileage by no more than 10% per week.
- Pace yourself. Move at a moderate (brisk) pace that allows you to talk comfortably — around 11-13 on the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale. As your fitness level increases, you’ll be able to handle higher intensities.
- Enjoy. Boost your odds of sticking with it by finding activities you enjoy; better yet, make it social. A brisk walk with a co-worker at lunchtime or an after-dinner bike ride with your spouse or partner makes the time fly by — and gives you an extra measure of accountability and support.
Studies like these are the reason I’m an unrelenting advocate for exercise at any age — just ask my parents. The science also pushes my husband and I to run or walk even when we don’t feel like it — first, because exercise gives us the energy and good health to enjoy life now, and secondly, because we want to enjoy a good quality of life in retirement. Staying healthy via exercise is something we have control over, so it’s a high priority.
Are you on track to enjoy the health-related quality of life you aspire to —now… and in your later years? If not, make a commitment to regular exercise today. Yes, it will make a huge difference. And, yes — it’s definitely worth the effort.
Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports.