Physical activity is paramount to the functionality and wellbeing of seniors, however is often dismissed by the people who need it most. Only 6 percent of men and 4 percent of women met the chief medical officers’ recommendations for physical activity during the Health Survey for England. As a client once put it, “People have gotten too comfortable with the sofa”.
The benefits of strength training are more profound than one might first anticipate. Although typically associated with sports performance and bodybuilding, it is an integral component of any older adult’s exercise program. Its role in fall prevention and the maintenance of functionality, ultimately leads to greater independence. Musculoskeletal changes that occur in seniors can be reduced and even reversed using a sound program which includes both weight baring and resistance exercise.
An effective program will prioritize movements that reflect the demands of everyday life, for example a squat closely replicates getting out of a chair. This approach preserves the capacity to complete daily activities such as walking, gardening etc.
Weight baring activity yields significant increase in bone mass, subsequently decreasing the risk of fractures. Falls and fractures are more prevalent in older adults partly due to postural deviations that alter their center of mass. Age related postural changes such as kyphosis (hunch back) typically occur when an individual doesn’t have adequate strength to maintain a neutral posture. Targeting postural muscles particularly those in the core and back, will therefore counteract this deterioration. Other advantages can include improved continence and greater respiratory function.
Cardiovascular activity reduces perceived exhaustion making daily movements less labored subsequently boosting confidence. Cholesterol profiles also improve with increased cardiovascular fitness. This means more “good” cholesterol in relation to “bad” cholesterol resulting in reduced risk of hypertension and atherosclerosis.
Cardio is the best protection against cardiovascular disease, an umbrella term for over 20 diseases including angina, coronary heart disease and strokes. Other effects include decreased resting heart rate, decreased resting blood pressure and improved respiratory function.
The cardio respiratory system will respond positively to physical activity regardless of an individual’s exercise history. Novices therefore should not be discouraged as they have the most to gain.
Despite being less tangible, the mental benefits of exercise are arguably the most more significant. Endorphins are a feel-good hormone released in response to physical activity reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. A Duke Today study shows that exercise can be as effective as anti-depressants in reducing the symptoms of depression.
Other noticeable benefits include self-esteem, confidence, accomplishment and a sense of purpose. Group sessions in particular work wonders in lifting spirits due to the social element which is often missing from the lives of older adults.
There appears to be a positive correlation between exercise and improved cognition including a longer attention span and faster processing speeds. This is suspected to be linked to improved glucose utilization of the brain. sleep patterns will be improved as a consequence of regular exercise.
Overall, exercise makes life less strenuous and more enjoyable.
REDUCED RISK OF CHRONIC CONDITIONS
Most age-related chronic conditions are primarily lifestyle induced and therefore easily avoided with adequate nutrition and physical activity. To give a brief example, the degeneration of articular cartilage known as osteoarthritis can be offset form physical movement as this is the means by which articular cartilage receives nourishment.
Optimal physical function enables independence, contribution, socialization, dignity, identity, liberty and self-esteem. Exercise grants seniors the elements of life they have always loved.