Aging is a natural process. Everyone has to undergo this in life at his or her own pace. Aging is influenced by dynamic changes in physiological, environmental, psychological, behavioral, and social processes. It results in declines in the functions of senses and activities of daily life and increases susceptibility to and frequency of disease, frailty, or disability. The aging process is different for everyone.
Effects of aging -
As muscles age, they begin to shrink and lose mass. This is a natural process, but a sedentary lifestyle can accelerate it. The number and size of muscle fibers also decrease. Thus, it takes muscles longer to respond in our 50s than they did in our 20s. Bones are more likely to break as their mineral content decreases.
Ligaments, connective tissues between bones, become less elastic, reducing flexibility. Joint movements become more restricted. The cushioning cartilage of the joints begins to break down from a lifetime of use; the joints, therefore, become inflamed and arthritic.
With age, skin becomes rougher. It becomes slack. The loss of the elastic tissue (elastin) in the skin causes the skin to hang loosely. It becomes more fragile, bruising easily. This is due to thinner blood vessel walls.
Exposure to sunlight is the single biggest culprit in aging skin. Over time, the sun's ultraviolet (UV) light damages certain fibers in the skin called elastin. The breakdown of elastin fibers causes the skin to sag, stretch, and lose its ability to snap back after stretching. Though the sun damage may not show when you're young, it will later in life. Aging affects almost all organs of the body.
There are many lifestyle factors that influence aging. Regular exercise is one of them.
Regular exercise slows aging –
It slows aging as follows:
- The functional capacity of the body declines by 0.75% to 1.0% per year after the age of 30. Exercise is an intervention that will help maintain and enhance functional ability as chronological age increases.
- Exercise reduces the age-related decline in VO2 max.
- It reduces mean blood pressure and systemic vascular resistance.
- It preserves lean body mass and decreases fat deposits. It has been found that cardio workouts can lead to more belly fat loss. Unlike fat on other body areas, belly fat can increase the risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
- Exercise also improves levels of HDL, or good cholesterol, the kind that protects your heart from cardiovascular disease.
- There is muscle loss and decrease in bone density with age. It can be counteracted with strength training, which builds muscle and bone health. When the muscles are strong in the core and along the spine, the seniors naturally stand taller and shave years off their appearance.
- It improves basal metabolic rate. The more muscle one has, the higher the calorie burn is. And it stays higher all day long, even after one has stopped exercising.
- Regular exercisers, who are over age 40, have skin that resembles the suppler, elastic skin of people in their 20s and 30s. Exercise creates body substances that help slow aging in skin. More research is needed to learn how exercise changes skin composition.
- With age the muscles and joints become stiff and rickety. Regular workouts, especially stretching-oriented routines such as yoga and Pilates, keep the muscle and joints flexible.
- Exercise helps release natural opiates like endorphins that boost the mood. There is evidence that exercise sessions can trigger changes in other neurotransmitters linked to pleasurable feelings, such as dopamine. And the confidence kick one gets helps one feel happier too.
- It helps seniors sleep soundly. A recent study bears this out, finding that getting at least 150 minutes of exercise per week improved sleep quality by 65%.
- Regular exercise prevents the shortening of telomeres, the caps at the ends of chromosomes that control aging. Telomeres become shorter as we get older. The longer telomeres are associated with longevity. Recent studies have found a link between regular exercise and the lengthening of the telomeres, suggesting that exercise can slow the clock. Therefore, regular exercise makes us live longer.
- It reduces stress. The endorphin release prompted by a workout has a relaxing effect and reduces anxiety.
- Researchers found that regular aerobic exercise seems to increase the size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with memory. Previous research has also linked exercise to sharper cognitive skills.
- Regular workouts also reduce the risk of heart problems that tend to crop up with age, such as high blood pressure and high levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood that can block or harden arteries.
- As we age, the digestive system can slow down. Regular exercise increases blood flow to the muscles in the digestive system, thereby facilitating peristalsis. Research suggests that exercise affects the balance of bacteria in the gut.
Components of an exercise schedule -
Exercise is the closest thing we have to the fountain of youth so far. An exercise routine for seniors should include aerobic, strengthening and stretching exercises.
Aerobic exercise -
Aerobic exercises are the ones that focus on pumping the oxygenated blood from the heart to other parts. They stimulate the breathing and heart rates to sustain and maintain at the higher rates per minute as long as possible. Common aerobic exercises include rope jumping, walking, running, swimming, cycling, elliptical machine, dancing, Zumba, stationary cycling, etc.
Moderate intensity workout for 30 minutes for 5 days a week is normally recommended. In the beginning, the seniors can take short rests during their workouts when they feel more exertion. It can be broken down into three sessions of 10 minutes each day. It has been found that walking suits and interests most of the seniors.
In a study, 125 amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79, 84 of which were male and 41 were female, were recruited. The men had to be able to cycle 100 km in under 6.5 hours, while the women had to be able to cycle 60 km in 5.5 hours. Smokers, heavy drinkers and those with high blood pressure or other health conditions were excluded from the study.
The study showed that loss of muscle mass and strength did not occur in those who exercised regularly. The cyclists also did not increase their body fat or cholesterol levels with age, and the men's testosterone levels also remained high, suggesting that they may have avoided most of the male menopause. More surprisingly, it also revealed that the benefits of exercise extended beyond muscle, as the cyclists also had an immune system that did not seem to have aged either.
Strengthening exercises –
Strengthening exercises become more important as we age. Seniors should begin with just two 30-minute workouts per week. Most people can commit to one hour a week easily. Gradually, it can be increased. These exercises should work all the major muscle groups in the body — legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders and arms. Examples of strength training exercises include weight lifting, resistance bands, using bodyweight, using weight machines, etc.
Seniors understand the impact that muscle strength has on their day-to-day life. Once they get going with a regular strengthening exercise routine, it doesn’t take long for them to feel the benefits. These exercises can actually prevent muscle loss, increase muscle strength and bone density as they age. This will help them remain independent and be able to do the things they really love to do.
Stretching exercises –
Stretching is a form of physical exercise in which a specific muscle or tendon (or muscle group) is deliberately stretched in order to improve the muscle's elasticity and muscle tone. The result is a feeling of increased muscle control, flexibility, and range of motion.
Stretches can be either static or dynamic. The static stretches are performed where the stretch is stationary, and dynamic stretches involve movement of the muscle during the stretch. Stretches can also be active or passive. The active stretches use forces generated by the body to perform a stretch, whereas passive stretches involve forces from external objects or people to facilitate the stretch. Stretches can also involve both passive and active components.
Seniors should try to stretch major muscles groups for at least 10 minutes, two days a week. Gradually, it can be increased to more days. Make sure that stretching exercises involve almost all parts of the body.
The takeaway -
Regular exercise has many benefits for older adults. Above all, it slows down their aging. Besides, by incorporating a well formulated program of exercise in their life, the seniors will improve the quality of their life.
University of Birmingham, "A lifetime of regular exercise slows down aging, study finds." Science Daily, 8 March 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180308143123.htm>.
Dr Pran Rangan (author) from Kanpur (UP), India on June 19, 2021:
Thanks, MG Singh, for your comments. Unless you enjoy exercise, you can't do it regularly. The fact is that once you get hooked on it, you will never give it up and will enjoy it a lot.
MG Singh emge from Singapore on June 19, 2021:
Very nice article, the clue is to enjoy the exercise as well.