Compare the effects of aging with those of exercise. With aging, you experience declines in muscle and joint strength, cardiovascular health and coordination. You lose muscle mass and gain fat. Chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, become more prevalent.

Enough of that. Let’s talk about something more uplifting: exercise! Much of the decline in physical health and ability attributed to aging is accelerated by inactivity. While nothing can turn back the clock or make you live forever, a well-rounded exercise program can slow and even reverse many factors associated with the aging process.

Cardiovascular Health
Endurance exercise (also called aerobic exercise) and, to some extent, strength training, improves cardiovascular health and helps control several disorders that increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Aerobic exercise refers to activities such as brisk walking or swimming that raise your metabolic rate for at least 10 minutes. These activities “stress” the muscles, bones and joints (the physiological systems that produce movement), the heart, blood vessels and lungs, and the other systems responsible for oxygen delivery and energy production. These systems respond to the stress of exercise by becoming stronger and healthier.

With endurance exercise, people with high blood pressure often see some reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Blood sugar regulation improves, thus decreasing risk for type II diabetes or improving blood sugar control for people already diagnosed with diabetes. Exercise helps increase HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind) in the bloodstream, and helps lower blood triglycerides. Blood becomes less likely to form the kinds of clots that lead to heart attack or stroke inside the blood vessels. Regular exercise also burns calories and helps reduce excess body fat, especially when combined with a nutritious, low-fat diet. Regular exercise helps reduce the amount of fat stored inside the abdominal area. Excess fat in this location increases risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Muscle and Joint Strength.
People used to think that you can’t teach old muscles new exercise tricks. Not so! It is now known that old muscles do respond to strength training by becoming larger and stronger. Strength training refers to exercise that requires your muscles to exert a force against some form of resistance, such as weights, elastic tubing, water or the weight of your body, as in push ups.

The trick is to work fairly hard but not so hard as to cause an injury, such as a pulled muscle. A class or personal trainer may be helpful for beginners. Performing strength-training exercises two to three times a week for 20 to 30 minutes yields terrific results. Muscles and joints become stronger, daily activities feel easier, and balance improves, helping to prevent falls that can lead to broken bones.
What about flexibility? Many people find that their flexibility improves a little when they begin to exercise. Add five or 10 minutes of stretching exercises at the end of your exercise session for even more improvement.

Exercise as Physical Therapy
Exercise is often prescribed for orthopaedic problems, such as rotator cuff injury, back aches and so forth. Many of the health problems that become more common with age, such as arthritis, insomnia and diabetes, respond favourably to exercise. Be sure to include any therapeutic exercises you should be doing in your exercise program.

Mental Well-Being
Much research supports the connection between regular physical activity and psychological well-being. Exercise helps prevent and treat depression. People who exercise regularly report feeling stronger, more energetic and more capable. Exercise helps relieve stress and improve quality of life. It has been said that while exercise may or may not add years to your life, it will certainly add life to your years.

You’re Never Too Old.
Unless you have a health problem that could be made worse by exercise (check with your doctor before starting an exercise program), you are never too old to start exercising. Begin slowly, build gradually and seek guidance from your doctor, exercise instructor or personal trainer.

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