Exercise may be the most important single component in achieving longevity. Moreover, it is now found that for many chronic diseases the best treatment is exercise, even for ailments where patients were formerly advised to rest. Exercise has healing power, called fitness therapy. It can help reduce arthritis pain, lift depression and improve the lives of people with everything from asthma and emphysema to chronic fatigue, lupus and osteoporosis, sometimes accomplishing what medicines cannot. Aerobic exercise (involving air/oxygen intake) may motivate the immune system to fight disease and help prevent certain cancers, according to some studies.
Other advantages of exercise are stress reduction, uplifted spirits, increased energy, improved appearance, better brain function and concentration, improved sleep quality, stronger heart, lower body fat, improved sexual performance and greater strength and flexibility. Exercise not only assists in lowering cholesterol, but also helps decrease high blood pressure. Moreover, there is evidence that walking and stretching will help prevent certain types of leg pains.
Try to vary your exercise with:
- Aerobic activity for good heart and lung function (includes jogging, rowing, swimming or cycling) stimulates and strengthens the heart and lungs, improving the body’s utilization of oxygen.
- Weight training for strong muscles and bones.
- Flexibility exercises to benefit your joints and range of motion.
It is beneficial to combine three levels of intensity, warm-up, workout, and cool-down. If your goal is weight loss, in my opinion, although exercise helps greatly to lose weight and tone you, it is not enough; it is essential to eat smaller portions and more low-fat food.
Don’t feel you should push to the limits — just do what you can do comfortably; you can increase activity as you see fit. Even walking slowly can lower your risk for heart disease. Many people start by exercising too long or too intensely and give up because their muscles and joints become sore or injured. Start slowly and build up gradually, allowing time for your body to rest and recover.
Low to moderately intense physical activity on most days of the week for 30 minutes or more can keep you in shape. However, any amount of exercise and time helps. Low-intensity exercise can come from walking for pleasure, gardening, yard work, housework and social dancing. Moderately intense exercise includes brisk walking, swimming, stair climbing, weight lifting, jogging, hiking, rowing, low-impact aerobics and bicycling. I am partial to brisk walking as it’s easy, needs little equipment, and pays big benefits. Even when you’re tired, a walk will refresh you. A word of caution: talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Try to be active every day, but don’t overdo it. If you’re exceedingly tired or “under the weather,” take a day or two off.
Warming up and cooling down is especially important. When walking, this can be accomplished by starting out slowly, increasing your pace, then walking slowly again as you’re finishing. Warming up lubricates the joints, loosening muscles to help you move better and gradually gets your heart to pump more blood and take in more oxygen. Warming up by stretching can many times prevent pulled muscles. Cooling down lowers the heart rate, so breathing and blood pressure return to normal, and prevents blood from pooling in your working muscles, returning it to your heart and brain. Stretching the muscles you used for a few minutes will decrease muscle soreness and help you relax. Have sore knees? Get knee exercises from your health care provider. They help!
If you have a regular program of exercise you may be able to perform at a level of physical activity comparable to someone who is 10 to 20 years younger but inactive. Physically fit people generally have faster reaction times than their sedentary counterparts, due to an increased flow of blood to the brain.
It’s never too late to get in shape, both physically and mentally; there does not seem to be any age when we lose the ability to benefit from an exercise program. You not only might live longer if you exercise regularly, but also might live more years independently and with a better quality of life.
Osteoporosis, the brittle bone disease, is an example in which exercise is recommended not only for prevention, but also in treatment. For bone health, weight-bearing and resistance exercises are used. Walking, stair climbing, dancing, running and racket sports are all weight-bearing activities with differing degrees of impact. Walking is ideal and the risk of injury is minimal, but if walking is not an option, a stationary exercise cycle is a good substitute, while being good for your knees.
Resistance training, such as working out with free weights or weight machines is very effective as a bone strengthener. See your doctor first, then a physical therapist. A gym or fitness facility is desirable, and a trainer can advise you on proper technique. These workouts are best done every third day to allow your body to recover.
Be safe. Avoid running, high impact aerobics and rowing machines—wonderful exercise, but best left to people with high fitness levels and no joint or bone problems, as these exercises put excessive stress on the bones. Don’t overdo. Some experts suggest that people with low bone density in the spine, indicated by height loss or “dowagers hump”, should avoid activities that involve bending forward and twisting, such as bowling or golf.
Exercise can build strong bones and strengthen muscles to help you become more stable, preventing falls. Exercise, medication and proper diet together may combat osteoporosis more effectively than any one treatment alone can.
Always keep in mind that you’re never too old to exercise.