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Why Regular Physical Activity and Exercise are Important As We Age

| May 01, 2019
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Just because you are getting older, doesn’t mean you have to give up working out, going to the gym, and staying in great shape.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) - an organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of older Americans through biomedical, social, and behavioral research – has produced the Go4Life initiative, which offers fantastic tips into how exercise can improve nearly every facet of your life.

EBW Life interviewed Stephanie Dailey, director of Go4Life, about the importance of Americans working out and staying physically active as they age.

  1. What is the most important thing for older Americans to understand when it comes to fitness and their health?  

Exercise and physical activity are good for just about everyone, including older adults. No matter your health and physical abilities, you can gain a lot by staying active. In fact, in most cases, you have more to lose by not being active. Research shows that being physically active on a regular basis can help you stay strong and fit enough to keep doing the things you enjoy. Regular exercise and physical activity can maintain and even improve your healthhelping you manage and even prevent diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. No matter what your age, you can gain benefits from regular exercise and physical activity.   

  1. What is the overall goal ofGo4Life? What is the main thing you want older Americans to understand when they first start incorporating Go4Life into their lives?  

The main goal of the National Institute on Aging’s Go4Life campaign is to encourage adults 50+ to fit exercise and physical activity into everyday lifeIt’s important to understand that physical activity needs to be a regular, permanent habit in order to produce benefits.  You can set yourself up to succeed right from the start by choosing activities that appeal to you, exercising safely, charting your progress to see success, and making your activity routine fit your personal lifestyle. Once you get started, keep going! 

  1. What kinds of exercise activities are recommended?

Exercise and physical activity fall into four basic categories—endurancestrength, balance, and flexibility. Endurance, or aerobic, activities increase your breathing and heart rate. They keep your heart, lungs, and circulatory system healthy and improve your overall fitness. Strength exercises make your muscles stronger. Balance exercises help you control and maintain your body's position, whether youre moving or stillThey help prevent falls, a common problem in older adults.  Flexibility exercises stretch your muscles and can help your body stay limber.  

Most people tend to focus on one activity or type of exercise and think they’re doing enough. Each type is different, though. Doing them all will give you more benefits. Mixing it up also helps to reduce boredom and cut your risk of injury. 

  1. What advice do you give to an individual who hasn't worked out in a while and is ready to get physically active again? 

If you haven’t been active for a long time, it’s important to start out at a low level of effort and work your way up slowly. Beginning slowly will help you become more fit without straining your body. For example, you may want to start with walking, biking, or swimming at comfortable pace and then gradually do more or start strengthening exercises with 1- or 2-pound weights and gradually add heavier weights. You may want to talk with your doctor if you decide to start a vigorous exercise program or significantly increase your physical activity.  

  1. Does a person need to join a gym and get a trainer to optimize their workouts, or can they perform all of the activities on their own? 

There are many ways to be active. Some people find that going to a gym regularly or working with a fitness trainer helps them stay motivated. However, there are ways to be active on your own or with a group. If you prefer individual activities, try swimming, gardening, walking or using workout videos. Dancing or playing tennis may be for you if you enjoy two-person activities. If group activities appeal to you, try a sport like basketball, or join an exercise class. The key is to find activities you truly enjoy. 


  1. How does working out and staying physically active as you age help alleviate stress and keep one's mind sharp? 

Research has shown that the benefits of exercise go beyond just physical well-being. Exercise helps support emotional and mental health. So, next time you’re feeling down, anxious, or stressed, try to get up and start moving! Physical activity can help: 

  • Reduce feelings of depression and stress, while improving your mood and overall emotional well-being. 
  • Increase your energy level. 
  • Improve sleep. 
  • Empower you to feel more in control. 

In addition, exercise and physical activity may possibly improve or maintain some aspects of cognitive function, such as your ability to shift quickly between tasks, plan an activity, and ignore irrelevant information. 

Here are some exercise ideas to help you lift your mood: 

  • Walking, bicycling, or dancing. Endurance activities increase your breathing, get your heart pumping, and also boost chemicals in your body that may improve mood. 
  • Yoga. A mind and body practice that typically combines physical postures, breathing exercises, and relaxation. 
  • Tai Chi. A “moving meditation” that involves shifting the body slowly, gently, and precisely, while breathing deeply. 
  • Activities you enjoy. Whether it’s gardening, playing tennis, kicking around a soccer ball with your grandchildren, or something else, choose an activity you want to do, not have to do. 
  1. What resources are available from Go4Life to help older adults become physically active? 

Go4Life offers free materials to help adults 50+ get ready, start moving and keep going with regular exercise and physical activity. These include the Go4Life website, an Exercise and Physical Activity Guide, a Workout to Go booklet, workout videos, videos demonstrating individual exercisestracking toolsSpeakers Toolkit with a slide presentation about exercise for older adultsposterspostcards, and more. To stay motivated, you can sign up for regular email alerts and coaching tips from Go4Life. 

Here are just a few of the benefits of what exercise and physical activity can help with:

  1. Improve your ability to do the everyday things you want to do
  2. Manage and improve diseases like diabetesheart disease, and osteoporosis
  3. Maintain and improve your physical strength and fitness
  4. Improve your balance
  5. Reduce feelings of depression and may improve mood and overall well-being.

Go4Life recommends the goal “is to achieve at least 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of moderate-intensity endurance activity a week. Being active at least 3 days a week is best, but doing anything is better than doing nothing at all. If you cannot do 150 minutes a week because of a health condition, do as much as your condition allows.

It's important to try and do strength exercises for all of your major muscle groups twice a week for 30-minute sessions each, but remember: don’t exercise the same muscle group on any two days in a row.

Some important tips for those just getting back into the gym or starting to work out. 

Safety First

Don’t hold your breath during strength exercises. Holding your breath while straining can cause changes in blood pressure. Breathe in slowly through your nose and breathe out slowly through your mouth.

Workout Progression

Gradually increase the amount of weight you use to build strength. Start out with a weight you can lift only 8 times. Use that weight until you can lift it easily 10 to 15 times. When you can do 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions easily, add more weight so that, again, you can lift it only 8 times. Repeat until you reach your goal.

4 Types of Exercise

Exercise and physical activity fall into four basic categories—endurancestrengthbalance, and flexibility. Most people tend to focus on one activity or type of exercise and think they’re doing enough. Each type is different, though. Doing them all will give you more benefits. Mixing it up also helps to reduce boredom and cut your risk of injury.


Endurance, or aerobic, activities increase your breathing and heart rate. They keep your heart, lungs, and circulatory system healthy and improve your overall fitness. Building your endurance makes it easier to carry out many of your everyday activities. Endurance exercises include:

  • Brisk walking or jogging
  • Yard work (mowing, raking, digging)
  • Dancing


Strength exercises make your muscles stronger. They may help you stay independent and carry out everyday activities, such as climbing stairs and carrying groceries. These exercises also are called “strength training” or “resistance training.” Strength exercises include:

  • Lifting weights
  • Using a resistance band
  • Using your own body weight


Flexibility exercises stretch your muscles and can help your body stay limber. Being flexible gives you more freedom of movement for other exercises as well as for your everyday activities, including driving and getting dressed. Flexibility exercises include:


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