Exercise for Healthy Aging: Introduction

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Exercise for Healthy Aging

Did you know that...

  • exercise is the best way to age in good health and stay autonomous?
  • exercise can help prevent falls?
  • exercise improves both physical and mental health?
  • exercise done in a group helps improve feelings of loneliness and isolation?
  • inactivity is a risk factor for cognitive decline?
  • inactivity reduces endurance, strength, flexibility and balance?
  • inactivity is as detrimental to your health as smoking is?

Is this you?

  • You are frightened of having a bad fall.
  • You don't feel as strong as you used to.
  • You are depressed, anxious.
  • You are increasingly isolated.
  • You are over 50 years old

I want to start exercising, but how do I begin?

You first need to check with your doctor to see if your health permits, and then determine if you are eligible to perform all types of exercises, or whether some should be avoided. You can do exercise at home, at the gym, or with a group. To learn about the many possibilities out there, you can contact your community's recreational services office, private sports centres, and university and college fitness centres. Canada's Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living for Older Adults may also be helpful.

Choose physical activities you'll enjoy; this will make it much easier to integrate them into your routine and keep going. By choosing exercises in each of the four categories (strength, aerobics, flexibility and balance) you will give yourself the best chances of improving your quality of life and maintaining your physical independence.


What is Exercise and why do it?

Not long ago, healthcare professionals used to advise older people not to undertake a rigourous exercise program.

Now, we know there is more harm in not exercising than in exercising.

The good news is that it's never too late or too early to benefit from the positive effects of physical activity. You can even develop better muscles at age 80!

Exercise is a physical activity that's planned, structured and repeated, and whose goal is to improve or maintain physical ability—muscle strength and flexibility. Physical activity is any activity during which you use your body's physical resources to perform movements: cleaning, or walking the dog.

The benefits of physical activity and exercise

According to the CFLRI, or Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute, exercise can help…

  • reduce anxiety and depression
  • improve balance and prevent falls
  • reduce pain symptoms
  • create a feeling of well-being
  • improve cognitive function and mood
  • reduce the risk of osteoporosis
  • control hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes and obesity
  • maintain autonomy
  • add years of independent, autonomous living
  • reduce morbidity and prolong life span

Exercise helps prevent falls

In addition to helping you avoid falls, exercise will help you to be less afraid of falling, since you will have greater strength and improved balance.

Falls are the reason behind more than half of the injuries suffered by people aged 65 years and up, and they can permanently reduce an older person's mobility and independence. It's within your control to reduce or eliminate the risks-by keeping yourself in good health and by making your environment more secure and easier to move around safely. Is your environment safe? Are your carpets solidly attached to the floor? Do you have enough places to lean on in the bathroom? Are your things stored within reach? Is your lighting strong enough? Are your staircases safe? Health Canada has published a number of guides that can help you prevent falls. Looking after your health includes managing your medications, eating well, ensuring that your sight and vision are regularly checked, and exercising. The strength and balance exercises suggested on the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute website can also help.


Don't let anyone tell you "It's normal at your age"

As we age, our bodies wear out and change. Some changes are inevitable, like the aging of the cardiovascular system and the respiratory system. The heart and lungs lose some of their efficiency. Other changes can be slowed down, such as osteopenia, sarcopenia, or the decline of cognitive faculties (memory) and physical faculties (balance, walking). Exercise plays a determining role in slowing and preventing these changes.

Osteopenia and sarcopenia

As we age, our bones lose minerals (osteopenia) and become more fragile, which increases the risks of fracture (such as hip fractures). Osteopenia can evolve into osteoporosis.

Another symptom of aging is that muscle mass shrinks (sarcopenia).

The only way to defeat sarcopenia is to exercise (mainly strength exercises).

Strong muscles provide better support for bones and joints and, in so doing, help to prevent falls, which are the main cause for fractures and loss of independence in older people.

At a more advanced stage, sarcopenia can even limit a person’s physical autonomy and restrict them to a more sedentary lifestyle, which creates a vicious circle that only gets worse with time:

Muscle-building exercises and balance exercises can help post-menopausal women to increase their muscle mass.

At any age, but particularly after menopause, women stand to benefit tremendously from doing physical exercise.


Next: Do These People Seem Familiar?


We are pleased to house this series of FAQs supervised by Cara Tannenbaum, from the Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal.

Browse Contents of Exercising for Healthy Aging:

The FAQs are also not meant to be a substitute for medical advice. When you have questions about your health, it is always advisable to ask a health care practitioner.