The importance of exercise as we age

When we think about ageing, one of the first things that come to mind is moving less and less.

Older man and woman gleefully exercising in a bright park

As we age, we don’t have to grind to a stop.

Throughout our lives, movement helps us stay well and mobile.

According to the National Institute of Ageing Director, Robert Butler:

“If exercise could be packaged into a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine. All of us would take it for longevity as well as for the health-related quality of life benefits.”

The ageless benefits of exercise

The benefits of exercise are not limited to certain age-groups.

Exercise improves strength, mobility, flexibility, endurance, balance, fitness, weight management, and physical and mental wellbeing for everyone.

For people over 65

For people aged 65 and over, exercise or physical activity has been demonstrated as important for increased life expectancy, as well as reduced rates of falls and fractures.

Additionally, exercise is similar or better than medication in reducing severity of chronic diseases.

Where there is a lack of moderate to vigorous exercise or physical activity, with large amounts of time sitting, there is higher risk of poor health.

These include high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes (type 2), some types of cancer, as well as to delay onset of dementia.

Furthermore, active older populations demonstrate improved function in some chronic diseases such as heart and vascular diseases, chronic obstructive lung disease, diabetes (type 2), depression, osteoarthritis, and obesity.

Some other effects of increasing exercise or physical activity in older populations includes seeing improved quality of life, cognitive function, and social and emotional well-being.

Diagram of Te Whare Tapa Whā, or, Wellbeing. A house with the pillars: spiritual, mental & emotional, family & social, land & roots and physical wellbeing

Combined factors affecting health

The factors which affect our health are not isolated.

It is important to recognise that physical (Taha tinana), spiritual (Taha wairua), emotional (Taha hinegaro) and social (Taha whanau) factors all interconnect in our wellbeing (Hauora).

Research demonstrates that following a healthy lifestyle is associated with a lower risk of early mortality.

The six pillars of health model identify the factors which contribute to a healthy lifestyle:

  1. Physical activity and exercise
  2. Diet and nutrition
  3. Sleep
  4. Stress reduction and mental health
  5. Harmful substance reduction or cessation (e.g. tobacco, drugs, and alcohol)
  6. Healthy relationships

The Blue Zone studies

The combination of lifestyle factors and their impact on wellbeing was also found by the Blue Zone studies.

These studies looked at areas in the world where more people lived to over 100 years old.

In these places, their lifestyles all had similarities which relate to increased life expectancy as well as healthier and happier lives.

Their lifestyles cause them to be 'constantly nudged into moving'.

Being physically active, doing things such as riding bikes or chopping wood without mechanical devices in the homes or gardens.

These people completed tasks manually rather than using machines - for example food mixers or dishwashers.

Diagram of the circle of wellbeing, including the fundamentals: movement, right outlook, eating wisely and connections

Why physical activity is important for ageing

Exercise is a type of physical activity. Physical activity can be many things such as mowing the lawn and stacking supermarket shelves.

When we talk about exercise, we generally mean a structured activity like training for a sporting event.

However, exercise is equally for leisure - like walking the dog or a yoga practise.

The Blue Zones studies show that physically active lifestyles are very important for healthy ageing.

The Ministry of Health 2013 guidelines summarise that combining mixed types of physical activity, across a range of intensities, have shown effectiveness in managing the older population’s health.

You can book an appointment with an APM Physiotherapist online or in your local area by calling 0800 967 522.

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