Make Physical Activity Your Top Resolution for 2011
Too busy to compile a list of New Year's resolutions? How about a single resolution which will have a positive effect on your physical, emotional and brain health? Take advantage of the "miracle drug" of physical activity!
In previous issues of Aging in Stride, we've taken a look at studies showing the beneficial effect of exercise on arthritis, heart disease, fall risk, diabetes, depression and other conditions. What have we learned over the past year? Here are just a few of the new studies for 2010:
- The American Medical Association began the year by releasing a collection of studies about the benefits of exercise on healthy aging.
- The Radiological Society of North America reported that walking five miles per week slows cognitive decline, even for people with Alzheimer's disease.
- In a related study published by the American Academy of Neurology, walking was also shown to protect the brain.
- Another study from the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands confirmed that exercise is effective in controlling arthritis pain.
- Active video games are also receiving favorable attention. The Academy of Sports Medicine reports that playing Wii games can help seniors maintaina healthy weight.
- The University of British Columbia released research showing that weight-bearing exercise improves mobility and memory.
We feel better—both physically and emotionally—after we've exercised. Exercise clears the mind and improves memory for about 24 hours. It reduces pain in almost all conditions. Indeed, it is the most important treatment for controlling pain and preventing disability. Exercise encourages the brain to produce more endorphins, the body's natural pain killers and energizers.
All seniors can safely do some form of regular exercise, no matter what medical problems or disabilities they face. In fact, frail or disabled persons have the most to gain. It's never too late to start! Before beginning an exercise program, talk to your healthcare provider, and get a "prescription" for an exercise program that's right for you. In general, older adults need to have several major components in their exercise routine:
Aerobic exercise is activity which increases your heart rate and breathing, bringing more oxygen to the body. When the heart pumps harder, the muscles of the blood vessel walls strengthen and become more flexible, reducing blood pressure and improving blood flow to the brain and all other vital organs. The heart, a muscle itself, becomes stronger and stronger. Any activity that makes your heart pump faster and makes you breathe a little harder is aerobic exercise, like walking quickly or dancing.
Muscle strengthening and flexibility exercise programs are offered at community centers, senior centers, and health clubs. The old cliché "use it or lose it" is really true: when we don't use our muscles, they slowly atrophy (become small and weak). And when the ligaments that hold our joints together are not stretched to their fullest length regularly, they shorten, reducing flexibility. The good news is that you can get back much of your muscle strength and flexibility, no matter how weak or stiff you've become!
Balance training instruction and classes can help prevent falls, and enhance confidence in exercising. Balance problems are very common as we grow older, resulting from loss of muscle strength, decreased flexibility, and loss of sensation in the feet. Activities such as tai chi improve proprioception—our sense of body placement.
Increasing regular physical activity is the most important prescription your doctor can give you to improve overall health and well-being. Follow your doctor's recommendations and enjoy the improvement you will experience in body and in mind.
By Joyce Remy, Editor, and Dennis Kenny, Co-Author, Aging in Stride–Plan Ahead, Stay Connected, Keep Moving. Copyright, 2011.