Author: Richard Weil, MEd, CDE
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
- Senior Exercise Overview
- What happens to muscles as we age?
- Is it ever too late to build muscle?
- Can I get stronger without building big muscles?
- What happens to endurance as we age?
- What happens to flexibility as we age?
- What happens to balance as we age?
- What happens to bones as we age?
- What happens to our joints as we age?
- Does exercise help cognitive function?
- Can exercise improve mood?
- How much exercise do I need to do for health and fitness?
- How do I get started?
- What are some exercise options?
- Where can I get more information about exercise for seniors?
- Find a local Geriatrician in your town
Senior Exercise Overview
George Burns (who lived to be 100) used to say, "If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!" It's true that some individuals are blessed with good genes, and no matter how many unhealthy lifestyle habits they have, they're going to live into old age. But for the rest of us who might be concerned with quality of life as we age, exercise is one of the keys. Is it ever too late to start? Research proves it's not. In this article, I'll discuss the benefits of exercising into old age and then give you some tips on how to get started no matter how old you are.
The aging population
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, by the year 2030, the number of individuals in the United States 65 years and over will reach 70 million, and people 85 years and older will be the fastest growing segment of the population. Some of you may already be there, while others may be approaching. But whatever your age, exercise can help. Below is a description of what happens to our bodies as we age and how exercise can make all the difference.
What happens to muscles as we age?
Muscle mass decreases as we age. Beginning in the fourth decade of life, adults lose 3%-5% of muscle mass per decade, and the decline increases to 1%-2% per year after age 50. Muscle keeps us strong, it burns calories and helps us maintain our weight, and it contributes to balance and bone strength. Without it, we can lose our independence and our mobility.
Is it ever too late to build muscle?
The good news is that muscle mass can increase at any age in response to exercise. In an important study of weight lifting and older adults conducted with 100 male and female residents of a nursing home in Boston (age range: 72 to 98 years of age; average age 87), subjects lifted weights with their legs three times a week for 10 weeks. At the end of the study, there was an increase in thigh mass of 2.7%, walking speed increased 12%, and leg strength increased a whopping 113%! In a similar study of adults 65-79 years old, subjects who lifted weights three times a week for three months increased their walking endurance by 38% (from 25 minutes to 34 minutes) without appreciable increases in mass. Ida Weiss, a 91-year-old participant in the Boston study, had the following to say after the study, "It's very beneficial for me. Things that I couldn't do when I came here, I can do now. I didn't think that I was going to live anymore, but I feel different now."
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