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Staying physically active as you age can help improve strength, flexibility, cardiovascular health, and mental well-being.

Aging is a process that affects your body and mind. While some of the changes tied to aging are unavoidable, there are ways to help slow down certain negative aspects of aging. In doing so, you can continue to do the things you love as long as possible. Staying physically active as you age is the first step to aging healthily. Here, we’ll break down how aging affects your body, discuss the benefits of staying active, and discuss how much physical activity older adults should get.

How does aging affect the body?

Aging affects the entire body. Over time, processes slow down, such as the metabolism and the function of many organ systems. These changes affect digestion, endurance, and the speed you can recover from an injury. Most people also lose muscle mass and bone density as they age, and these two changes make slips and falls more likely and dangerous. In addition, joint problems can make it harder to move.

The brain is also affected by age. Most older people experience changes in memory and cognitive function. Certain age-related diseases become more common as one gets older. These include cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.

While many people thrive as they age, some age-related changes can impact one’s quality of life. For example, mobility issues can make daily activities more difficult or almost impossible, and Age-related illnesses and injuries can lead to extended hospital stays. Changes to cognition and memory can be frustrating and make it harder to keep up with events or hobbies. 

Fortunately, simple lifestyle changes can help, such as increasing one’s daily physical activity.

Benefits of staying active as you age

Physical activity has several benefits for age-related changes and conditions. These benefits touch on nearly every aspect of aging — physiological or mental.

Physiological benefits of staying active as you age

A key benefit of physical activity is improved musculoskeletal health. Physical activity can help keep the body strong and limber and improve bone strength. Maintaining mobility is strongly associated with better quality of life in older people. In addition to mobility, physical activity has powerful effects on cardiovascular health. Regular physical activity helps reduce blood pressure and keeps blood vessels healthy. This reduces the risk of heart attacks and stroke, even in the presence of diseases like diabetes, which are common in older people. 

Active lifestyles also help older people reduce their risk of cancer. A study of older adults found that physically engaging in leisure activities reduced rates of new cancer diagnoses. This reduction in cancer occurred even when participants did not meet recommended levels of physical activity set by the government.

Mental and neurological benefits of staying active as you age

Physical activity has powerful beneficial effects on mental well-being and neurological health. For example, research shows that older people with physically active lifestyles maintain better cognitive function as they age. In addition, physical activity — especially stretching exercises — in older age is associated with better overall mood and lower rates of depression

The effectiveness of physical activity in improving mood is heavily dependent on sleep. Fortunately, exercise improves several metrics of sleep quality in older adults.

How much physical activity should an older person get?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that people older than 65 get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. The agency also recommends strength-building activities two days per week and balance-building activities three days per week.

Working more physical activity into daily life

There are several simple ways to incorporate more activity into your life. Your daily activities can provide you with plenty of physical activity. Hobbies like gardening, walking, and even doing chores around your home can engage many muscle groups and the mind at the same time.

If you have difficulties walking, you can do things in bed or in a chair to help you stay active. People who are regularly seated can do exercises with their arms that raise their heart rate. Those who are generally in bed can stretch their limbs and sit up when possible to help maintain muscle tone. Any movement that is comfortable for you can help.

As you incorporate more activity into your daily life, you may also want to consider dedicated exercise. Exercises that raise your heart rate and work out multiple muscle groups are best. You should try to push yourself, but not so far that you risk injury or over-exhaustion.

Many exercises for older adults can help you stay physically active, even at varying levels of mobility. Physical activity is essential for everyone, especially older people. The more you can incorporate physical activity into your life, the greater the benefits.