Exercise Beneficial to Aging


By Joanne OConnor, PT, OCS
Originally appeared in the January, 2012 issue of Quality Care® Monthly

Exercise is a lifelong friend. Research tells us regular exercise can slow the aging process and add years to out life span. Exercise benefits our heart, bones, brain, joints, muscle system and even our mood. A study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in July 2011, shows that regular exercise can decrease the risk of mental decline and dementia. If that is not enough to make you put your walking shoes on, read on!

An exercise program will usually reap benefits for you if you make it a regular part of your routine. However, it is very important to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program to ensure that you are healthy enough to participate. A well rounded exercise program often includes strength training for improvement of the muscle system, endurance training for enhancement of the cardiovascular system, balance exercises, a flexibility routine to promote mobility and last but not least a program for pelvic floor muscles to reduce or eliminate incontinent episodes. Sounds like a lot of work doesnt it? Lets break it down.

Strength is the ability of our muscles to generate force for everyday tasks. The ability to lift yourself out of a chair or climb a flight of stairs is dependent on the strength of your legs. Muscle strength peaks when we are in our twenties and thirties. By age 50 the majority of us will start to lose muscle fiber and by age 80, we will have lost up to 50% of the muscle fiber in our arms and legs. Although size of muscle is not directly related to strength, strength of muscle does decline with age. Studies prove that exercise can slow the gradual loss of strength.

Strength training can be free weights, resistance bands, weight machines, weighted balls or even ones own body weight. It is generally recommended to strength train every other day, allowing worked muscles recovery time. Research reports that even people in their 80s can gain strength with just eight weeks of resistance training.

Want to control your weight? Strength training can help control weight by improving metabolism. Muscle burns calories. It can improve bone health as the resistance on the muscle places a healthy stress on the bones to keep bones strong. Muscle strengthening of the pelvic floor can decrease or even eliminate incontinent episodes. Pelvic floor muscle exercises are often recommended as the first line of defense for stress urinary incontinence. The United States guidelines for physical activity recommend strength training for active and older adults on two or more days per week for all muscle groups.

Endurance exercise generally refers to aerobic activity. It is any exercise that causes the heart and breathing rate to increase. Walking briskly is considered a moderate intensity workout. For the person who is inactive, starting with just 10 minutes is considered beneficial. Walking, jogging, swimming or cycling for 30 minutes a day (2 hours and 30 minutes/week) at a moderate intensity is the US guideline for substantial health benefits. You can lower your blood pressure, risk of heart disease, risk of stroke and even your risk of breast and colon cancer with physical activity.

Most of us are working on a balance activity every time we engage in a walking program. For those with a history of falls, specific balance exercises are best. A balance assessment by a qualified physical therapist will determine where to begin a balance program, be it sitting, standing, stationary or mobile.

Flexibility is especially important as we age. The range of movement of the spinal joints reduces with age and makes us feel stiff. Muscles and tendons lose elasticity making it harder for joints to move. Muscle stretching exercises are recommended on two or more days per week for many people. Most people forget about this part of an exercise regime, although studies are not conclusive on the benefits, it is thought to help prevent injury and improve joint mobility. It is easy to build your flexibility exercise into your cool down from your aerobic activity.

Pelvic Muscle Exercises
Urinary incontinence is a significant public health problem. Everyone should be aware of the pelvic muscle group, which is not so easily accessible. Although age related muscle changes are only one of the causes of incontinence, we should be aware of these muscles and be able to engage them in our regular exercise routine. Once you have learned how to access the pelvic floor muscles, then you can incorporate them into your regular routine. So, you can exercise your pelvic floor not only at home but also at the gym.

Kegel exercises (pelvic floor exercises) can be practiced standing upright while doing bicep curls or with your walking program. A physical therapist trained in pelvic floor rehab will teach the knack, the ability to engage pelvic muscles when you need them. You need these muscles when you laugh, sneeze or cough.

The fact is we all age but we do not have to grow old. The benefit of exercise is it will help you age gracefully. Exercise should be specific to your lifestyle and health needs. The best exercise is one you find enjoyable and that fits into your routine. If you should need help developing or beginning an exercise program, a physical therapist can greatly assist you.

About The Author
Joanne O’Connor, PT, OCS is a licensed Physical Therapist and at St. Francis Rehabilitation and The Medical Center in Columbus, GA. She has been employed with HPRC since 2001. She received her B.S. in Physical Therapy in 1978 from University of Connecticut. She is an APTA Board Certified Clinical Orthopedic Specialist (2008) and her interests are the spine, manual therapy and womens health. She is a member of the Orthopedic and Womens Health Sections of the American Physical Therapy Association and the Physical Therapy Association of Georgia. She lives in Columbus, GA, and hobbies include cooking, container gardening and reading.

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2 Responses to Exercise Beneficial to Aging

  1. This recovering method is very helpful to add the value in our aging life and also helpful to increase our pelvic floor strength.

  2. yvonne jones says:

    I thank you , very much . That informtion was helpful to me. Thank you kindly!

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