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Exercise, it’s good for your health

Editor’s Note:

Thanks to breakthroughs in medicine and nutrition in recent years, we are living longer than ever before. But this increase in life expectancy also brings an increase in the number of diseases, injuries and impairments that affect older adults. With this in mind, we at the local Visiting Angels office in Salem have created this series of articles to keep our older population and their families informed and to offer some practical advice for meeting the challenges faced by seniors and those who care for them.

While exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle at any age, it can be particularly beneficial for seniors striving to maintain their quality of life as they grow older. Along with a proper diet, light to moderate exercise can help to slow many of the effects of aging and help older adults stay alert and active, long into their golden years.

Activities such as biking, swimming and even walking and jogging strengthen the heart, which helps endurance and makes everyday activities easier. That’s because the heart is a muscle, and just like any other muscle, it grows stronger with use and becomes more efficient at circulating blood throughout the body. A heart that isn’t working as hard to pump blood beats slower when at rest, which in turn helps control blood pressure.

In addition to benefiting the heart, exercise can also help lower the risk for diabetes by reducing glucose levels in the blood and increasing the body’s insulin sensitivity. It can also boost the body’s ability to fight off illnesses like colds and the flu, countering the natural decline that our immune systems often experience as we age.

Research also suggests that regular exercise may reduce the risk for dementia in older adults, even if they don’t start exercising until later in life. During exercise, the heart and lungs are working to supply oxygen to the body’s muscles and organs and carry away waste. The increase in oxygen to the brain, along with the removal of harmful waste, promotes healthy brain function and can improve memory and cognitive ability.

Declines in strength and flexibility are often considered part of the natural aging process. And while it’s true that most of us can’t expect our muscles and joints to perform as well in our seventies as they did in our twenties, regular use through physical activity can help keep our muscles strong and our joints limber, improving balance and coordination and preventing falls. This is especially important since a fall can be devastating to a senior’s health and independence.

People who exercise often tend to fall asleep faster and sleep deeper due to the rapid changes in body temperature experienced while working out. Not only is proper sleep vital to improving mood and emotional well-being, but it is also important for recovering from wounds and illnesses and maintaining proper brain functions and cognitive ability. This is because the tissues in the body are repaired while we sleep, especially during deep sleep.

Better sleep is not the only mood-enhancing benefit of exercise. Physical activity releases endorphins into the brain, which promote a sense of emotional wellbeing and reduce stress levels. These endorphins also help to ease the feelings of depression that often accompany the life changes experienced by older adults.

It’s important to keep in mind that we each age differently, and physical activity should be suited to an individual’s ability to safely perform that activity. Some exercises that are safe for one person may not be safe for another and should not be attempted, and many exercises can be dangerous for anyone over 60. Remember also that our bodies are always changing, and an exercise that may have been safe in your younger years could lead to injury later in life.

You should always consult your primary care physician before undertaking any new exercise regimen or continuing an old regimen after an extended period of inactivity, such as returning from the hospital or rehabilitation center. Never attempt any exercise or routine that you cannot perform correctly, which would result in injury, and stay away from any physical activity which would cause new injuries or make old injuries worse.

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Information provided by Visiting Angels, America’s choice in homecare. Visiting Angels non-medical homecare services allow people to continue enjoying the independence of their daily routines and familiar surroundings.

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