What if we told you there was a “magic” pill that works wonders as an antidepressant, anti-anxiety remedy, inflammation fighter, mood booster, and neurotransmitter harmonizer? Not to mention its remarkable abilities to boost neuroplasticity and neurogenesis—just a glimpse into its many benefits.
National Institute of Aging director, Dr. Robert Butler, said, “If exercise could be packaged in a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation.” Unfortunately, there's no such thing as an exercise pill. If there were, perhaps more than a mere 28% of Americans would be meeting the recommended exercise guidelines.
Whether you're a dedicated marathon runner or a self-proclaimed couch potato, exercise is an integral part of every individual's journey. And believe me, embracing it is simpler than you might imagine.
Benefits of Exercising Through the Ages
As the hands of time tick on, our bodies change both internally and externally. These shifts weaken the heart's capabilities, blood vessels, and blood composition. We gain unwanted body fat, and lose muscle mass and bone density. Our hormones get out of whack and affect the very fabric of our nervous system. As the years roll by, our maximum heart rate decreases, and our blood thickens, setting the stage for the aging journey.
There is good news, though–exercise combats nearly every aspect of aging! The Dallas Bed Rest and Training Study proved it. This study examined 5 healthy 20-year-old men. For the first 3 weeks, they had bed rest orders. Three weeks of laying in bed gave these guys the physiologic characteristics of men twice their age. They had faster resting heart rates, higher systolic blood pressures, a drop in the heart's maximum pumping capacity, a rise in body fat, and a fall in muscle strength.
Then, the researchers put them on an 8-week training plan. Exercise did more than just reverse the toll of bed rest–these men became healthier than they were at the start of the study. The researchers assessed the same 5 men 30 years later and put them on a moderate 6-month training program, and found some amazing results!
Benefits of exercise boasts an extensive list—here are some highlights:
- Exercise decreases blood pressure, resting heart rate, and blood vessel stiffness.
- Exercise increases calcium content and strength of bones, metabolic rate, quality of sleep, and HDL (good cholesterol).
- Exercise improves memory and reduces the risk of dementia.
Finding Your Exercise Groove: Tailoring to Individual Needs
Exercise can look different for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all routine. The official CDC recommendation for exercise is 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity with 2 days of strength training. Let’s break this down to see how it can apply to your life.
There are three main types of exercise that help us age well:
This type of exercise gets your heart rate up. Aim for 30 minutes of activity that gets your heart rate between 70-85% of your maximum heart rate. To find your max heart rate, subtract your age from 220. It’s helpful to have a heart rate monitor, but not necessary.
Aerobic exercises include running, biking, rowing, and swimming among many other options. If these aren’t your thing, here are some fun alternatives that work just as well:
- Turn up the speakers and dance your heart out
- Play pick-up tennis or pickleball at your local rec center
- Try a group fitness class (spin, barre, kickboxing)
- Get into power yoga
These types of exercises boost your cardiac health, help with weight loss, and improve your memory & ability to learn new things.
Resistance or strength training builds muscles, which helps boost your metabolism and protect your bones as you age. You can use weights, resistance bands, or your body weight.
After age 30, your muscle mass naturally declines 3-8% each decade, which means your muscle cell’s mitochondria (energy supply) also decrease in size and function. One study shows that after only 6 months of consistent resistance training in older adults, there were favorable changes in 179 genes that gave these older adults the mitochondrial function of a 24-year-old. Exercise can actually reverse aging!
Stretching and flexibility training are often overshadowed in workout regimens, but they shouldn’t be ignored. Stretching protects against potential injuries and the discomfort of joint-related pain. It’s been proven to boost serotonin levels as well. Serotonin is the feel-good hormone that stabilizes your mood and reduces stress.
Try adding a 5-minute stretch before and after your workouts and your body will thank you. Even better, try a 30-60 minute full body stretch a couple of times a week. Yoga and pilates are great options for a fun way to stay flexible.
Safety First: Listen to Your Body
Before diving into a new exercise routine, it's crucial to prioritize your health and well-being. Start by consulting with healthcare professionals who can offer personalized guidance based on your medical history and fitness goals. Striking a balance between pushing yourself and avoiding strain is essential to prevent injuries.
Remember, exercise is meant to enhance your life, not add stress. Choose activities you genuinely enjoy and can sustain over time. By nurturing a positive relationship with exercise, you'll be on the path to a healthier and happier you.