Walk It Off, Work It Out

Everyone knows that staying physically active is good for you, but the thought of getting up and getting moving can often feel like it’s just too much effort. You put it off.

You tell yourself you will start an exercise program later, or tomorrow, or next week. You come up with a dozen reasons why now isn’t the right time.

The truth is, getting active — even if just for a few minutes at a time — is one of the best and most important things you can do for yourself and for your health.

And that is especially true as you age.

Exercise, research has shown, can help older people — even those who are frail — stay independently mobile. It can help ward off disease and disability. It can even help you live longer.

A 2014 study by the National Institutes of Health found that a carefully structured, moderate-intensity physical activity program could help older people maintain the ability to walk without assistance longer — the single most important factor in maintaining independence. This large, clinical study included more than 1,600 sedentary men and women over the age of 70 who were at risk for disability. Those who exercised up to 150 minutes per week (including 30 minutes of brisk walking, 10 minutes each of balance training and lower extremity strength training and large muscle flexibility exercises) reduced the risk for a major mobility disability by 18 percent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exercise can also help control weight, improve mood, boost energy, improve sleep habits and reduce the risk for diseases such as type 2 diabetes, some cancers and cardiovascular disease.

Regular exercise and physical activity are also good for your mental health. Research has shown that doing aerobic exercises, or a mix of aerobic exercises and muscle-strengthening exercises, three to five times a week for 30 to 60 minutes can help sharpen your mind, boost your mood and reduce your risk for depression.

At the very least, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) recommends that older people do balance exercises to help prevent falls, improve their ability to go up and down stairs and avoid tripping over objects in the home. Simple falls can cause serious injuries such as bone fractures that can lead to disabilities. Every year, more than two million older Americans end up in the emergency room because of falls.

To improve balance, the NIA’s Go4Life program recommends exercises such as standing on one foot, walking heel to toe and walking in a straight line with one foot in front of the other. Other exercises to improve balance, as well as endurance, strength and flexibility, can be found at https://go4life.nia.nih.gov/exercises.