As we age, there are certain declines in bodily functions that occur, particularly to the female body. These changes cannot necessarily be stopped, however, we are able to prevent them from developing or occurring later rather than sooner. No, it is not through a pill or some form of medication. It is through the power of healthful eating and regular exercise. Yes, exercise! Exercise can be just as powerful if not better than some medications in reducing or preventing the effects of certain health issues that develop as we age.
Many difficulties and chronic diseases, which develop as we age, are a result of inactivity or sedentary lifestyles. As a result your chronological age (numbered) may be 55 but your biological age (physical) may be 35 due to an active lifestyle and vice versa for a sedentary lifestyle.
Regular exercise should be an important factor in the lives of senior and retiree women over the age of 55. There a multitude of health benefits that result from participation in regular cardiovascular and strength based exercise.
Participating in physical activity has shown to help with reducing the symptoms of menopause, risk of heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis just to name a few. We will go into more detail on these benefits in the following.
- Bone healthBone health is an important factor for females as they age as they are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a weakening of the bones due to decreased bone mineral density (BMD). BMD is the density of calcium and other minerals within the bones that keep them strong. A combination of reduced exercise, physical activity, dietary calcium intake and aging impacts the development of osteoporosis.
By undertaking weight bearing exercise such as walking and stair climbing over the lifespan and into older age you can increase or maintain your BMD to reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.
- Muscular healthMuscular health pertains to the strength and endurance of the muscles which work in accordance with your nervous system and skeletal system within your body that allow movement and stability in everyday and leisure activities.
Keeping your muscles strong means you are able to functionally complete daily tasks and leisure activities due to increases stability from your muscles. You are also able to maintain or increase your metabolism with increased muscle mass and strength and thus will reduce the risk of putting on weight if you maintain your healthy eating regime as you age.
- Cardiovascular healthCardiovascular health pertains to the function of your heart, blood, capillaries and blood vessels – veins and arteries – which work to pump blood and thus oxygen and nutrients around the body in order to function optimally in daily tasks, physical activity and exercise. It is also responsible for removing carbon dioxide and other waste products from the body.
Cardiovascular disease such as coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis and heart valve dysfunction are leading causes of death as we age. A healthy cardiovascular system can reduce the risk of cardiac disease.
Increased levels of physical activity and exercise can aid in reducing the risk of developing or dying from cardiac disease. Exercise enhances the function of your cardiac muscle (heart) plus increases blood flow to your heart and other muscles throughout the body.
- HypertensionHypertension is excessively high blood pressure, which places undue stress on your arteries as the blood struggles to pass through. It is characterized by a resting blood pressure of Systolic blood pressure (top number) greater than 140mm Hg and a diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) of greater than 90 mm Hg, taking anti hypertensive medications or being told by your GP on more than two occasions that you have high blood pressure (BP).
Regular exercise can aid in the reduction of high blood pressure over time. In individuals with hypertension aerobic exercise can lead to reductions in resting BP by 5 to 7 mm Hg. Aerobic exercise should be emphasized on most days of the week and supplemented by moderate intensity resistance training 2 – 3 days of the week.
- Metabolic diseaseMetabolic disease is the combination of multiple (at least three) health issues pertaining to cardiovascular disease risk factors. These include abdominal obesity, diabetes, hypertension, being female, high cholesterol and high blood triglycerides. Together these risk factors pose a greater risk to health than they do alone.
Changes in nutritional intake in combination with moderate increases in physical activity and exercise can help to combat metabolic disease. This includes at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity on most days of the week.
- DiabetesType 1 diabetes is a result of autoimmune destruction and type 2diabetes is a result of excess body fat.
Type 2 diabetes usually develops, as we get older and is characterized by an increased level of fasting glucose due to a deficiency in insulin secretion or inability to utilise insulin. Sustained elevated glucose levels places your body at risk of disease.
In those with type 2 diabetes glucose levels can be controlled through regular exercise. Regular exercise can increase glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity and thus decrease insulin requirements.
Those at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes can also reduce their risk of developing the disease through exercise participation. It is recommended that moderate intensity exercise be completed for at least 150 – 300 minutes a week in order to aid in reducing the risk of or controlling type 2 diabetes.
- FallsThe risk of having a fall or multiple falls can occur, as we get older due to a natural decrease in muscle mass and strength. Decreased hip, thigh and core strength can predispose an individual to increased falls risk.
As we age it is important we partake in regular exercise that works to increase the strength of our core, hips and thighs to maintain stability during everyday activities. Having strong muscles also allows us to quickly respond to certain actions such a slips and trips, which we would usually respond to automatically.
- StrokeStroke can occur as a result of a blockage or hemorrhage in the brain stopping blood flow to the brain tissues and thus limiting bodily function.
Eighty percent of strokes are preventable and are caused by lifestyle factors such as exercise, diet, and blood pressure. Exercise can help to prevent stroke as well as aid stroke survivors. Moderate aerobic exercise such as walking is recommended and can reduce the risk of women having a stroke by 20 percent.
- ArthritisOsteoarthritis is a common occurrence as we age due to degradation of the cartilage between the joints causing swelling, inflammation and pain.
Exercise can reduce the symptoms of arthritis by increasing mobility and strength in and around the joints.
Regular balanced exercise is important for those with arthritis and should engage in various types of exercise such as strength, aerobic and mobility training. Activities such as swimming, water aerobics, walking, strength training and tai chi are effective low impact forms of exercise.
- Mental HealthAnxiety and depression will impact most people at some point in their lives and as we age this becomes more apparent. Exercise can be an effective form of therapy for these mental health issues and improve your mood and mental fitness.
Regular moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise such as walking or jogging can reduce tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep patterns as well as self-esteem. As little as five minutes can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
A variety of different types of exercises should be completed on a regular basis. This includes aerobic exercise, strength training and stretching. Each type of exercise has an important role in maintaining and improving optimal function of your body as you age.
Aerobic exercise encompasses activities such as walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, stair climbing and even dancing, gardening and housework. This type of exercise works to improve the function of your cardiovascular system, which includes your heart, blood and blood vessels – arteries and veins – that together keep blood and thus oxygen pumping around your body!
Strength training encompasses lifting free weights, machine weights or utilizing your body weight to improve your strength and posture in addition to improving bone strength and reduces the risk of injury. It is best to try target multiple muscles within the body in order to strengthen the whole body.
Stretching encompasses exercises such as yoga and Pilates, which move through the joints range of motion and work to improve range of motion (ROM) and flexibility. Completing this type of exercise helps to reduce injury and soreness.
It is important to note that these health benefits as a result of regular exercise are integral to a long and healthy lifespan. Late life exercise has been accepted to have positive benefits for strength, aerobic fitness and ROM/flexibility. The next few articles we provide you with will go into more depth on how regular exercise is essential for particular benefits for senior and retiree women over the age of 55 as they age, in order to have a full and happy life.
- ACSM’s Introduction to Exercise Science, Jeffery A. Potteiger, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2011
- ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription Eighth Ed., Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010
- Health Promotion for Older Women: Benefits of Nutrition and Exercise Programs, Ronni Chernoff, Et Al, Vol 18, No. 1, Sept 2002