I am 55 years old and have never had a regular exercise program. What are the benefits of exercise, and will I benefit starting at this later stage of my life?
Exercise has been shown to be beneficial at all ages. It is important to seek advice from your health-care provider (physician) regarding the kind of exercise suited to your present health condition. You will need direction as to what is the best exercise for you and how much you should do as you start out on such a program.
Regular exercise helps keep us energized, and is also important in helping to prevent and aid in the treatment of certain diseases. Exercise can help to lower hypertension (high blood pressure). This is especially true of aerobic exercise (such as walking, running, jogging, and swimming). Individuals who have moderate hypertension may additionally need medications in order to achieve the best blood pressure control.
Regular exercise helps to strengthen bones. Exercise can help to increase the healthy or high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL). Individuals who exercise regularly have less chance of developing type 2 diabetes in adult life. In those patients who already have this disease, exercise can help control or even reverse the diabetes, as long as the lifestyle changes are continued. Any changes in medications should be made by the treating physician.
Regular exercise appears to decrease the risk for certain cancers. The evidence is most convincing for breast and colon cancer; it is thought that exercise may also decrease the occurrence of prostate, lung, and uterine (womb) cancers. This benefit of exercise may be partly because physical activity helps to reduce weight, and excess weight is a risk for cancer.
Regular exercise is good for you only if you do it! It is never too late to start.
It is difficult to stay motivated and exercise regularly. I know of the physical benefits; are there perhaps any advantages other than physical that may encourage me to continue exercising?
Regular exercise not only energizes the body, but also gives one a feeling of well-being. This is associated with a generally better quality of life both physically and mentally. Exercise helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Some of these effects are due to certain chemicals produced by the body (with exercise) called endorphins. These substances help to elevate the mood.
Exercise improves mental function. Exercise may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in individuals who may be prone to this disease, and also decrease the worsening symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Measurable improvements in memory have been demonstrated after 9 to 10 weeks of regular aerobic exercise.
These additional benefits of regular exercise should help keep you motivated. Keep at it—it’s worth it!
What is the best exercise, and how much should I do?
The best exercise is the one you actually do on a regular basis! There are three general types of exercise:
Aerobic or endurance
Flexibility or stretching
Strength-building (weights and resistance)
Although all forms are important, aerobic exercise is highly recommended. Walking is an excellent form of exercise, and one should walk briskly for 30-45 minutes most days of the week. For the best health benefits, up to 90 minutes per day is recommended.
The exercise time can be divided up into two or three sessions over the 24-hour period. A simple way of measuring the amount of walking you do each day is to use a pedometer (a small measuring device worn on the belt/waist). One should strive to walk 10,000 steps per day to enjoy the best health. Don’t be frightened by these goals. Press on!
“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength;…they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31).
Allan R. Handysides, M.B., Ch.B., FRCPC, FRCSC, FACOG, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.
Peter N. Landless, M.B., B.Ch., M.Med., F.C.P.(SA), F.A.C.C., is ICPA executive director and associate director of Health Ministries.