Five Myths About Exercise and Aging
Get Moving to Keep Your Brain and Body Healthy
Don’t let common myths about exercise and aging keep you on the couch.
Maintaining or starting an active lifestyle becomes even more important as we get older. Physical activity increases mobility and balance, improves blood pressure and blood sugar, increases lean muscle mass, and helps you lose or maintain a healthy weight.
Remember to always get the go-ahead from your primary care physician before starting an exercise program. Your doctor will have some suggestions on a routine that suits your needs and situation.
Myth One: I’m too weak.
We do lose muscle mass as we age, but exercise helps keep muscle tissue healthy. Basic strength training with weights is particularly important to halt the loss of muscle and keep you stable and strong enough to perform basic functions of living, such as getting out of a chair or carrying the groceries. If you have pain, stiffness, and fatigue, exercise can help you manage your pain and reduce it over time. The key is to start gently.
Myth Two: Exercise is only good for the body.
In addition to physiological advantages, exercise also benefits your mind, mood, and memory. It may even slow shrinkage of the brain as we age. Exercise strengthens the connections, called synapses, in the brain that are essential for brain health and may even increase capillary development in the brain so that more blood supply, nutrients, and oxygen reach it.
Myth Three: I’m too old to exercise.
You’re never too old to be physically active. No matter what your health and physical abilities are, older adults gain significantly by being active. Exercise can help restore strength and flexibility, as well as help prevent falls. It can even improve your mental outlook.
If you are just starting an exercise program, begin slowly and build up gradually. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the goal is to do at least 150 minutes, or two-and-a-half hours, of moderate-intensity endurance activity each week. This type of activity should get your heart rate up and make you break a sweat. Aim for at least three days a week and include the four types of exercise: aerobic (endurance), strength, flexibility, and balance.
Myth Four: It’s too expensive.
You don’t have to join a pricey health club or invest in equipment to exercise. You can avoid expensive options and focus on low-cost activities such as walking, hiking, or swimming. You may even find workout or dance videos on the internet which can guide you through simple exercises to do in the comfort of your own home.
Myth Five: Exercise increases my risk of falling.
The opposite is actually true – the more sedentary you are, the greater the likelihood that you will fall. Physical activity prevents bone loss and builds strength and balance, which helps to reduce your risk of falling. The National Council on Aging at www.ncoa.org partners with organizations throughout the United States to offer community-based programs that help reduce fear of falling and increase activity and self-confidence among older adults. Your local community center or YMCA can also be a good resource.
Madalasa Bista, M.D., is a family medicine doctor at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in Oceanside. Dr. Bista provides care for patients of all ages, focusing on preventive care, including nutrition and mental health. A world traveler, Dr. Bista enjoys volunteering.
Looking for a new doctor? To find a Scripps physician near you call 760-230-0029 or visit scripps.org/0810myths.