If you want to live long, you need to live strong! In this article, I want to lift the lid on exercising and aging to show you how to get the most from your golden years.
As an experienced certified fitness trainer, I often work with older exercisers and it’s remarkable to see how being fit and and strong can give older exercisers a new lease on life. Many go from being unable to easily move around to being able to live a productive and independent life. In many ways, exercise gives these older clients a new lease on life. I can tell you it’s very gratifying and rewarding.
Average life expectancy has increased quite dramatically during the last 50 years. In 1960, the average life expectancy in most Western countries was around 67 years. Fast forward half a century and that figure has climbed to 74 – a statistical increase of slightly under 10%. This increase in life expectancy can contribute to a number of interesting factors including…
- Improved general medical care
- No major World Wars in this period
- Elimination of serious diseases such as small pox
- Improved hygiene standards
- Reduced incidences of work-related accidents / improved health and safety
- Improvements in preventative medical screening and subsequent care
Because of medical advancements, we are living longer. Conditions and diseases that used to mean life would come to a premature end can now be managed or completely avoided using drugs and other medical interventions. However, while as a nation many of us are living longer, are we living better? In many cases, I think not.
A large majority of the older population are unable to live anything approaching an active or independent life. Many lack the strength necessary to get out of a chair or bed unaided and find climbing stairs very challenging if not impossible. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to just live longer, I want to enjoy those extra years to the maximum by staying as fit and strong as I can!
Of course, many older people fail to see the benefit of exercise and often consider themselves “too old for that sort of thing”. They incorrectly assume that they are too old to start an exercise routine or, as they age, they assume they should be doing less and not more physical activity. Many think it’s simply “too late” to do anything about their current lack of fitness and resign themselves to a life of inactivity and immobility. Unfortunately, this thinking is at least in part responsible for the increasing number of weak, frail people trapped in their beds and chairs and unable to enjoy a high quality of life.
Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the “father of fitness” and the originator of the term “aerobics” famously said “We don’t stop exercising because we grow old; we grow old because we stop exercising” and I truly believe he hit the nail squarely on the head with that one.
Contrary to popular belief, even the very elderly can experience dramatic improvements in strength, fitness and health when they commit to a regular exercise program of appropriate exercise. And while it is far better to gain a decent level of fitness in your youth and then work to retain it as you age, there is no reason at all that an older person cannot experience many if not all of the benefits associated with regular exercise, especially if they workout under the supervision of a suitably qualified and experienced fitness trainer.
In very simple terms, exercise helps to slow many of the degenerative effects of the aging process and preserve those physical characteristics essential for leading an active and qualitative life. Regaining lost strength, mobility and balance can restore functionality and create a new lease on life for even the oldest exerciser.
Following a sound exercise and dietary plan can offset or even prevent many of the health problems commonly associated with aging and result in:
- Increased bone mass
- Improved muscle strength
- Healthier, pain free joints
- Improved mental function
- Better balance resulting in a lower incidence of falls
- Improved posture
- Improved circulation
- Reduced incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD)
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced incidence of heart attack
- Reduced incidence of stroke
- Improved confidence and self-image
- Increased immunological system function
- Better digestive system function
- Increased likelihood of living a long, productive and independent life
Exercise and eating a healthy diet can also have a profound effect on mental fitness. By mental fitness I mean things like your memory and ability to solve problems. Many older people start to experience difficulties with their mental faculties when they retire from work and begin to use their brain less. As any certified fitness trainer will tell you, if you don’t use your muscles, they will become small and weak and while your brain is not a muscle, lack of use will speed its untimely functional decline. Exercise and diet don’t just effect your body; they also effect your brain so it does really does pay to stay fit and healthy.
By and large, fitness and exercise are marketed to the young but, in reality, older exercisers will get the biggest benefits from staying fit and active. If you want to insure your later years are enjoyable and remain active and independent for as long as possible, you need to hop (carefully!) onto the fitness bandwagon. Consider working with a certified personal trainer who is experienced with working with older clients; that way you get the very best results from your workouts.
By Mark Darco
Mark Darco is a professional personal trainer who has completed multiple certifications. He works in Brooklyn and NYC.