We’ve all heard the typical refrain from people who are getting older and are told to exercise more, maybe we’ve even uttered it ourselves: “I’m too old for that.” As we age we are conditioned to think that physical activity should taper off. At some point around the age of 40, conventional wisdom tells us, our bodies will begin to fall apart and the best thing we can do is keep them from suffering too much harm. Unfortunately for conventional wisdom, science says the exact opposite. In the words of Born to Run author Christopher McDougall “You don’t stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running.” If you don’t believe me, check out these 5 science-backed ways that exercise combats aging.
1. Muscular Strength
One of the most pronounced and unnecessary effects that aging has on our bodies is a decline in muscle mass. As we get older, it is true that we begin to lose muscle mass. What isn’t true is that we can’t do anything about it. Sitting back and accepting that you will get weaker just accelerates the process. As we age we need to increase our strength training rather than decrease it. Take the case of Dr. Charles Eugster who at the age of 86 decided he was tired of losing strength and joined a bodybuilding club. He is now 94 years old and still going strong.
2. Cardiovascular Health
Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in the western world and that is largely because we get willfully inactive as we get older. We avoid getting exercise because we are afraid of hurting ourselves. The truth is, you are doing far more harm by sinking into an easy chair that you could ever expose yourself to by going for a walk. Research has shown that cardiovascular rehabilitation is as effective on elderly patients as it is on younger ones and the risk factors involved are not significant. It may not be fun at first but shake off the rust and get yourself moving for the sake of your heart and brain.
3. Balance and Reflexes
Studies have also shown that seniors who exercise are significantly less likely to suffer falls. It may not seem so dangerous on the face of it but falls, either down stairs or onto hard surfaces, are often the beginning of substantial declines in the health of older people. By exercising you increase you balance and your reflexes so when you do stumble, as we all do, you are better able to recover and less likely to be injured. All that aside, the more used your body is to moving, the less likely it is to fall in the first place.
4. Bone Strength
Declining bone density is another natural part of aging that exercise can work to combat. Many people view weakening bones as a sign to take it easy, when really they should do just the opposite. The only way to strengthen weak bones is to stress them. Much like astronauts returning from space, staying off your feet tells your body that it doesn’t need to invest its resources in strengthening bones because those bones exist in a stress-free environment.
5. Mental Ability
Exercise will not only reduce the impact of aging on your body, it will also keep your mind sharp. Research into the mental declines associated with age has shown that the more a person exercises, the less impact aging has on the brain. This is consistent with research demonstrating that physical acticity encourages the strengthening of neural connections and even promotes the growth of new brain cells.
Getting old isn’t something many of us look forward to. Luckily, science is beginning to show that feeling old is largely optional. The more time you invest in taking care of your body, the more time you will have overall to enjoy you life.