The best and most important time to exercise is in our later years. Although you may not have the same amount of energy as you did when you were 25, beginning a regular exercise program can have you feeling younger, healthier, and happier.
Unfortunately, we undergo many physiological changes as a result of aging. These changes include increases in fat mass, decreases in muscle mass, weaker cardiac output (reduced blood flow, stiffening of blood vessels, slower heart rate), lower bone density, and slower reflexes. Although these occurrences are inevitable, a combination of cardiovascular, balance, flexibility and resistance training can slow down these adverse processes.
The first and most important type of training that can improve many of these aspects, as well as, lower our overall chances of mortality is cardiovascular (endurance) training. Cardio training can be performed on various modalities, which include bike riding, rowing, walking, jogging, elliptical, arm ergometer, and other activities such as recreational sports and dancing. Endurance training on a regular basis has been found to improve our overall cardiac output, lower our LDL cholesterol and blood-glucose levels, reduce fat mass, and improve lung function among many other aspects of our health.
Evidence backing improved cardiac output can be observed in a research study performed at the gerontological research institute. This study was conducted to find the effects of a 4-month endurance training program on older adults. The results of this experiment illustrate the significant benefits of exercise training on the overall cardiac output of a group of older adults. Exercisers trained three times weekly for 40 minutes on a cycle ergometer (5-minute warm up, 30 minutes at training heart rate (THR), 5-minute cool down). Target heart rate was set at 70% of peak heart rate attained on a maximal exercise test. At the end of the experiment, the exercise group improved their aerobic capacity by 8.5% compared to the control group (no exercise) whose aerobic performance decreased (Posner).
Resistance training, otherwise known as strength training, has been found to improve bone density at any age and increase muscle mass. Combining a strength training program with a balance training program has been found to prevent falls in the elderly. According to a study done in New Zealand, a six month strength and balance program showed a significant change in the number of falls among two groups of senior citizens. This is an important finding, because in many cases falls lead to long-term inactivity, which in turn increases the rate of mortality (Campbell).
By Anthony Locast
Campbell, A. John, et al. “Randomised controlled trial of a general practice programme of home based exercise to prevent falls in elderly women.” Bmj 315.7115 (1997): 1065-1069.
Posner, Joel D., et al. “Low to moderate intensity endurance training in healthy older adults: physiological responses after four months.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 40.1 (1992): 1-7.