Stop the Clock! Stay Stronger Longer

It’s no secret that as we age, our bodies naturally slow, bone density decreases and many adults experience a loss of strength, flexibility and balance. But research shows that it is never too late to stop (or slow) the clock! Many of the symptoms attributed to aging, including pain, stiffness and lack of coordination are actually byproducts of a sedentary or unhealthy lifestyle. With proper exercise, nutrition, sleep and stress management, it is possible reverse the trend and stay healthy and vibrant well into your golden years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults need at least two and half hours (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week—that’s 30 minutes five days a week, plus two or more days a week of muscle-strengthening activities. For even greater health benefits, it is recommended to increase aerobic exercise to up to five hours (300 minutes) per week.

Aerobic exercise, also known as cardiovascular exercise or “cardio,” is any activity where you move your large muscle groups for a sustained period of time, at least 10 minutes to be effective, while maintaining an increased heart rate. Not only does this keep the body working more efficiently by conditioning the heart and lungs, it also burns fat, warding off obesity. Some of the best lower-impact cardio exercises to engage in are walking, biking, cross-country skiing, aerobic or dance classes, or using an elliptical trainer.

Muscle strengthening activities should target all the major muscle groups: legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest shoulders and arms. Try activities such as lifting weights, using resistance bands, exercises that use your own body weight like push-ups or sit-ups, yoga or even heavy gardening.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine reinforces that is never too late to improve the quality of your diet. When study participants (most 60 years or older) improved the quality of their diet by eating high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, along with drinking plenty of water, and limiting sugar, high fats and processed foods, saw a lowered risk of premature death. Eat well and live longer!

Sleep is important because it’s the time when the body repairs and restores itself. Loss of sleep can impact balance, coordination, memory and cognitive function. All adults are recommended to have seven to nine hours of sleep per night, but many older adults tend to sleep more lightly and for shorter periods of time than younger adults. Some of the best ways to improve sleep are to exercise daily, reduce or avoid caffeine, sugar and liquids late in the day, eat light evening meals, limit daytime naps to 30 minutes or less, and create a relaxing evening routine.

Finally, managing stress is important not only to for mental and emotional health, but also for the aging body. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that stress can add years to the age of individual immune system cells. To prevent depression and anxiety and keep your immune system strong, try incorporating yoga, meditation, Tai Chi or the practice of mindfulness into your day.

With proper care of your body from the inside out, you will feel better and set yourself on the path to living a long, healthy and happy life! You’ll experience the most success when you choose activities that you enjoy and that are best suited to you current fitness level. Remember to start slow and increase in small increments, consulting your doctor or professional trainers with any concerns or questions.