Are You Too Old To Exercise?

Your mind may actually be your biggest hurdle to staying fit and athletic well into your 80s and 90s, especially if you buy into the myth that you've got to spend your afternoons siting in a rocking chair once you reach 75. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not everyone has to become  a world class athlete to stay in shape. Exercise can be a part of your life no matter what your age, and, in fact, becomes only increasingly important as you get older. There's an overwhelming amount of evidence confirming that physical exercise is a key player in disease reduction, optimal mental, emotional and physical health, and longevity. After reviewing a few papers published between 2006 and 2010, researchers found that exercise reduces the risk of about two dozen health conditions, ranging from cancer and heart disease to type 2 diabetes, stroke, dementia and depression. Exercise also slows down the rate of aging itself, providing perhaps the closest example of a real life fountain of youth as we will ever find.

Ideally, you will have made exercise a regular part of your life long before you reach your "golden" years. But if you haven't, there's no better time to start than the present. Research has shown that regular exercise, even initiated late in life, offers profound health benefits. For instance:

  1. Even a small amount of exercise may protect the elderly from long-term memory loss and even help reverse some of the effects of aging.
  2. Women between the ages of 75 and 85, all of whom had reduced bone mass or full-blown osteoporosis, were able to lower their fall risk with strength training and agility activities.
  3. Moderate exercise among those aged 55-75 may cut the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which increases heart disease and diabetes risk.
  4. Among those who started exercising at age 50 and continued for 10 years, the rate of premature death declined dramatically, similar to giving up smoking and mirroring the level as seen among people who had been working out their entire lives.
  5. Exercise significantly improved muscle endurance and physical capacity among heart failure patients with an average age of 76.

Further, the older you get, the faster your muscles atrophy if you're not regularly engaging in appropriate exercise, so the key to avoiding sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) is to challenge your muscles with appropriately intense exercise. Age-related muscle loss affects about 10-20 percent of those over 60, with higher rates as age advances, but you can prevent this from occurring if you exercise.

Exercise is a key to remaining steady on your feet as you get older, which is of incredible importance because not only are falls responsible for most fractures and traumatic brain injuries among the elderly, but those who fall can also develop an intense fear of falling again, which leads them to limit their activities and in turn increases their risk of falling even more.

So while it may seem like exercises to improve balance and strength are optional as you get older, they should really be viewed as a necessity like eating and sleeping. Exercise can literally become a life saver. As you get older your muscle and bone mass decreases and the senses that guide your balance, vision, touch, and proprioception may all start to deteriorate. This can make you unsteady on your feet. By taking the time to do balance, strength and other exercises on a regular basis you can keep your sense of balance strong, and even restore what's already been lost. In a study published 3 years ago, eight weeks of balance training reduced slips and improved the likelihood of recovery from slips among the elderly. Separate research, noted that altered balance is the greatest collaborator towards falls in the elderly. They found balance training is effective in improving functional and static balance, mobility and falling frequency in elderly women with osteoporosis.

So finally you can put the, "I'm too old." -- statement to rest please. Now you lead by example for your own family and show them that it is never to late to begin exercising.

References. Ambrose, L. (2004). Reistance and agility training reduce fall risk in women aged 75 to 85 with low bone mass: A 6 month randomized controlled trial. Pub Med, 5(52), 655-657. Retrieved from