National Institute on Aging emphasizes importance of exercise
March 4, 2016 - One of the nation's experts on aging, Dr. Richard J. Hodes, Director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in and interview with NIH MedlinePlus magazine emphasized the immense importance of exercise to age well and the need for seniors and others to exercise regularly.
He heads the principal federal agency for studies of the basic, clinical, epidemiological, and social aspects of aging.
Why is exercise so important?
Exercise is perhaps the best demonstrated way to maintain good health, fitness, and independence. Research has shown that regular physical activity improves quality of life for older adults and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease and many other illnesses and disabilities. In many ways, it is the best prescription we have for healthy, successful aging.
Does exercise make a difference?
Yes, staying active is important throughout life. Regular exercise and physical activity help you stay fit enough to keep doing the things you enjoy. No matter your age, you can find activities that meet your fitness level and needs.
How much physical activity is good?
Aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity endurance activity (such as brisk walking) and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). You can do balance and flexibility exercises any time.
Is it safe to exercise?
Exercise is safe for almost everyone. Studies show that people with arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease benefit from regular physical activity. If you haven't been active for a long time, it's important to start out at a low level. You may want to talk with your doctor if you decide to start a vigorous exercise program or significantly increase your activity.
What do you plan to do this year to stay fit and healthy?
For as long as I can remember, and over the years, my exercise routine has changed very little, always including both strength training and aerobic exercise.
Strength training involves upper body exercises to strengthen arms, shoulders, back, chest, and neck; lower body strength exercises build leg strength for walking, hiking, and sports, as well as climbing stairs and other everyday activities.
For endurance, I use an exercise bike ergometer, but some prefer walking or running on a treadmill in the gym or out-of-doors. The key is to make exercise as much a part of the day as eating or sleeping. I feel great when I exercise, and I urge you to give it a try, or to stick with it if you're already hooked. Do it carefully and regularly and see for yourself how fun and rewarding it can be.
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What You Need to Know About Exercise
What is the best kind of exercise?
Most people tend to focus on one activity or type of exercise.The goal, however, is to be creative and do all four types of exercise—endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. (See "Healthy Aging with Go4Life")
Endurance, or aerobic, activities increase your breathing and heart rate. They help keep you healthy, improve fitness, and carry out everyday tasks.
To strengthen your muscles, you need to lift or push weight. Even very small changes can make a real difference. Stronger muscles can make it easier to get up from a chair, carry groceries, open jars, work in the garden, and even play with your grandchildren.
Each year, more than 2 million older Americans go to the emergency room because of fall-related injuries. Balance exercises are one way to help prevent falling.
Flexibility, or stretching, exercises give you more freedom of movement for everyday activities.
How can I find time to exercise?
There are a number of ways to fit exercise and physical activity into your schedule. For example, exercise first thing in the morning, or combine physical activity with a task that's already part of your day, such as walking the dog.
Do I need any equipment?
For many activities, you don't need any equipment or special clothing. All you need for brisk walking, for example, is a pair of comfortable, non-skid shoes. For strength training, you can make your own weights from unbreakable household items.
Is it better to exercise in a group or alone?
The key is to do what you truly enjoy, which could be with others or on your own. A team activity like basketball or a group exercise class might be appealing. Or, on their own, some people find going to a gym regularly or working with a trainer helps them stay motivated.
What should people who are overweight or obese do?
Try walking, water exercises, dancing, or weight lifting, varying your activities to include endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Anything that gets you moving—even for only a few minutes a day in the beginning—is a healthy start. Feel good about what you can do, and pat yourself on the back for trying. It should get easier.
Photo of Dr. Hodes courtesy of National Institute of Aging