Stronger, younger, sharper: Long term physical activity benefits
Aerobics was one of the most popular workouts of the baby boomer generation when they were in their 20s. Once the fitness trend took hold in the late 1970s, people jogged their way to better health over the years. Cholesterol and blood pressure levels fell, and deaths from heart disease dropped dramatically.
“Four decades later, those who started on the ground floor with regular physical activity are realizing its long term benefits in obvious, and not-so-obvious, ways,” says Dr. Paul Oh, medical director of the Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.
Dr. Oh lists the benefits of sticking with regular physical activity over an extended period of time.
You’re less likely to get dementia, as physical activity plays a significant role in keeping you mentally agile in your senior years. Research indicates that physical activity improves cognitive function, but a decline in fitness explains why some people are more prone to dementia than others.
Another study found that those who exercised at least twice a week during middle age were much less likely to develop dementia by the time that they reached their 60s and 70s.
You’re as young as you feel
A study tracked a group of people in their 70s who had been running regularly for 40-plus years, and compared them to young adults. Although the active elderly group did have lower aerobic capacities than their younger counterparts, their capacities were about 40 percent higher than inactive adults of the same age. The active adults had the cardiovascular health of someone 30 years younger, and more muscle tone than sedentary seniors.
After the age of 30, you tend to lose one third of a pound of muscle per year, and your bones become weaker if they aren’t subjected to weight-bearing exercise. Studies show regular strength training can triple overall muscle mass in older adults.
Exercise produces feel-good hormones that act as anti-depressants. Being physically active also simulates stress – you sweat, your heart races and your mind is on alert. This exposure helps to equip the body to handle the fight-or-flight reaction that happens when we’re anxious.
Regular activity strengthens your heart muscles. Vigorous- and moderate-intensity physical activity improves the heart’s ability to pump blood to your lungs and throughout your body. Being active also boosts the production of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is good cholesterol, and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. This keeps your blood flowing smoothly and decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases.