Aging and Physical Activity

Most people are aware of the many benefits of regular physical activity. As we age, exercise helps us to feel more energetic, sleep better, maintain our weight, and aide us in continuing to do what we want to do by keeping up our strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular conditioning. Hopefully you are also physically active for fun and to look and feel healthy. It is never too late to start working toward the level of fitness that you desire.

One question we often hear is, “if I exercise, how long should I exercise and at what level of intensity?” First, any activity is better than nothing, and it does not have to be extreme or continuous to get real benefit. However, it does depend - but mainly on your goal. Some exercise to live longer, others to allow them to play as they would like. Many will exercise to lose weight, or to lose "bad" belly fat, recover from an injury, train for an event, achieve cardiovascular protection, better manage diabetes, or prevent cognitive decline. The list goes on and on. Identifying your goal does help answer the question how long and how hard, as the correct answer is different for many of the above goals.

If, as you age, your goal is to help reduce cognitive decline and you wonder if things are different now that you are older, there is interesting research from the Mayo Clinic. A review by Dr. Eric Ahlskog and colleagues showed that aerobic exercise can lessen the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. Physically fit seniors had a greater volume of grey matter in their brains compared to sedentary seniors. He also showed in a recent paper that exercising vigorously and working up a sweat can slow the progression of Parkinson's disease. A recent report in Cell Metabolism by Dr. Sreekumaran Nair found that high intensity aerobic exercise can enhance the body's ability to make new protein and thus more muscle. Vigorous aerobic exercise seems to reverse the cellular aspects of aging!

The bottom line is as you age or if you are in that senior group, for keeping your brain sharp and optimizing your health- fight sitting disease and stay active. Try to do something most days that you enjoy and aim for 30 minutes of activity. Research shows that it may be most helpful to push up the intensity a little, vary your work effort and break a sweat now and then. Also, don't forget to do your muscle strength training twice a week too. This combination should help you keep a 'healthy' brain.

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