Sticking to an exercise routine can be tough during our working years, with limitations on our time and energy making it hard to stay committed. After retirement, it can be even harder to start exercising, even though there may be more time available to do it. But with all the benefits that regular exercise can bring, it’s important we do everything we can to encourage older people to enjoy staying active and to reap the rewards. Here are just some of the major benefits to staying active in old age:
- Prevent bone mass loss Simple activities such as walking can help maintain bone mass, making older people less susceptible to osteoporosis and to suffering fractures easily. One study showed that by simply walking for 30 minutes a day, hip fractures were reduced among the elderly by up to 40 per cent.
- Improve sleep Older people often have problems with getting a good night’s sleep, and simple light exercise can improve this no end. Doing some gardening, walking around a stately home or simply doing some housework can significantly reduce problems with insomnia and help to aid restful sleep.
- Strengthen muscles Loss of muscle mass in old age is natural, and begins as early as our 30’s and 40’s. By working to maintain muscle mass, older people can enjoy better mobility as well as helping to avoid excessive pressure on the joints which can exacerbate pain from arthritis.
- Improve balance Exercises which bolster the sense of balance can help to reduce the incidence of falls, and can make older people feel more confident in their mobility. Low impact balancing skills like yoga and Pilates can be great for this, or even just going for a walk.
- Improve circulation Poor circulation can cause high blood pressure, heart disease and water retention, as well as a host of other health issues. Regular cardiovascular exercise can reduce the likelihood of these issues, and can help prevent stroke or a heart attack too.
- Reduce the risk of dementia Living a sedentary lifestyle in older age can increase the risk of dementia, or can accelerate its onset in someone who has already been diagnosed. Physical activity can have a significant impact on both the physical and mental wellbeing of those who are already living with dementia, and can help to reduce the risk of developing the disease too.
- Improve mental ability The brain needs blood flow to keep it in peak condition, and by increasing the heart rate through light exercise, brains can be kept healthier and mental alertness sharper into older age. A study in the US showed that people who walked between two and three miles each day could slow the rate of mental decline in old age compared to those who walked less than half a mile.
- Feel happier Many older people can be plagued with depression for one reason or another. Exercise can counteract this, and can help older people feel happier and remain mentally well. This is because exercise releases happy chemicals, known as endorphins, which keep us feeling happy and positive about our lives.
- Reduce aches and pains It can be hard to start exercising for those who suffer from aches and pains, but research shows that in the long run, moderate exercise can help stave off these discomforts. Starting off slowly and only doing what is possible without excessive discomfort is key to starting to build resilience.
- Live longer People who exercise regularly in their 50’s, 60’s and beyond have been shown to live longer than those who don’t. Even something as simple as walking for half an hour a day can help older people to live a happy, healthy life as they age.
Encouraging older people to exercise if they are not used to it can be challenging. Here at Blenheim House, we set out lots of opportunities for exercise, many of which don’t seem like exercise at all. For instance, residents are able to make use of the innovative ‘Tovertafel’ – a new interactive light game that helps with encouraging movement, whilst aiding reminiscence and helping to relax residents.
From dancing to playing games, we always manage to find an appealing way to get older people moving, so they can benefit from all the positive impacts of moderate exercise.