The Overall Health Benefits of Exercise for Adults and Seniors

Julie Shenkman
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Even though most fitness commercials show young people engaged in physical activity, the reality is that older adults may benefit even more from exercise. The benefits stack up in both the physical and psychological areas, and they also add to seniors' day-to-day functionality and overall quality of life.

Physical Health

Exercise reduces everyone's risk of cardiovascular ailments such as high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke. For older adults, this reduced risk is especially important. Exercise also decreases the risk of Type 2 diabetes and colon cancer.

People who are already suffering from chronic conditions such as arthritis that make life difficult are often grateful for the increased stamina and strength they gain from exercising. Many people with arthritis also find that exercise helps minimize their arthritis pain. As bones become more brittle with age and the loss of bone density, weight-bearing exercise helps joints and bones stay strong and healthy.

Mental Health

Exercise increases brain chemicals that put you in a good mood. It also reduces anxiety and depression. Regular physical exercise, even at a moderate level, helps older adults handle stress better.

In addition, because exercise increases blood flow to the brain, it helps your brain stay sharp as you age. Regular exercise may even help inhibit the development of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. In particular, exercise helps with mental functions such as planning and the ability to multitask.

Quality of Life

Not only does exercise keep you physically and mentally healthier, but it also helps you heal faster when you're injured or ill. Studies show that older adults who exercise heal up to 25 percent more quickly than those who don't. The combination of improved physical function with the psychological and emotional benefits of exercise work together to create greater quality of life overall. In addition, studies show that seniors who exercise enjoy a longer life expectancy.

The Risks of Inactivity

If you choose to take it easy as you age, or if you're concerned that starting an exercise program may be too difficult, you run the risk of losing certain functions. The ability to climb stairs, carry heavy packages or keep up with your kids or grandchildren is dependent on staying physically fit.

In addition, seniors who don't stay active typically require more visits to the doctors and experience more illness. They also end up hospitalized more often. Because the ability to balance is part of physical fitness, seniors who stay fit have a reduced risk of falling and breaking bones.

Seniors who want to start exercising should start off slowly. Remember, any physical activity is beneficial. Taking a walk or working in the garden counts as physical activity and doesn't require a pricey gym membership or special equipment. Even moderate amounts of exercise or physical activity — as little as 10 minutes a day — can be beneficial to older adults if it's done consistently.

Photo Courtesy of candice corder at


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Ruben thanks for your comment and input. Most of us just don't take the time to take care of our health. We are always on the go - first with our careers and raising our families to continuing with our careers and helping out with the grandkids. It's hard to find the time to really take care of ourselves by allowing an hour or so at least once a week to get a nice deep massage. Thanks for the reminder about how important it is for our overall health.

  • Ruben O O.
    Ruben O O.

    I am a Lic. massage Therapist and recommend regular massages to maintain your health. massages are also a way to monitor yourself.

  • Ruben O O.
    Ruben O O.

    Exercise benefits all of us!!! We need to take responsibility for our own health and wellness. Not only physical but also mental, emotional and spiritual!!!

  • smail yahiaoui
    smail yahiaoui

    There are no better than sports and eating sensible to eat vegetables

  • veronica s.
    veronica s.

    I would like to try this one first

  • Erica  T.
    Erica T.

    I totally agree with all the points given in this article. After injuring my foot, I had to stop most physical activity for four months (physical therapy only) to heal completely. Prior to the injury, I walked my dogs every day, and engaged in weight training and yoga three times a week. After four months of very restricted activity, I resumed my daily walks, but I was quickly out of energy. Also, I just wasn't as happy anymore. That's when I realized that exercising regularly matters. Luckily, I'm back to enjoying most activities with little pain and I feel happier, but I'll never forget the shock of feeling weak and tired, both physically and emotionally, because of a lack of physical activity.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Duncan some people are not able to stand on their feet for any length of time. That is why senior centers offer exercises while sitting down. They can still do strength training and movement even while seated. They might get as many health benefits from this as they would from light cardio while on their feet but they still benefit. @Jay what is your personal preference? Mine is just plain water. Gatorade and other sports drinks tend to upset my stomach if I drink them in conjunction with exercises. What about you?

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    I want to craft a good, comprehensive exercise routine that incorporates both cardiovascular and strength exercises. Does anyone know what I should be drinking throughout? It is better to buy a drink like Gatorade, or am I okay with plain water? Is there any benefit to the electrolyte cocktail in advanced sports drinks?

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    When it comes to health and fitness, a person ought to put a lot of effort to realize impressive results. Even the seniors are not to be exonerated from rigorous exercise because it's what they need to live even longer and happier lives. Giving them chairs should not come as the first recommendation. They ought to get used to being on their feet during exercise.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Just as PS here - always get the approval of your doctor before starting any exercise regimen!

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. Exercise can be intimidating to some but that's typically because they try to go over the top. Simple walking is great exercise. Doesn't require any special equipment except maybe for a good pair of walking shoes. It can be done anytime anywhere. For seniors with limited mobility, many senior centers offer "chair" exercises where the senior can still get the exercise even while sitting. Light weights are good for everyone, too. A simple exercise routine is good for all ages. Your body and your health will improve which will allow you to do more things.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    I agree with Kellen that the idea of exercise can be intimidating to those who haven't been exercising regularly, so it's good that this article makes it clear that it doesn't necessarily need to be a sport, or done in a gym. They can just think of it as "activity" if that helps to reframe it.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    The one thing I would add to this article is that everyone, especially seniors, should talk to health care professionals first before taking on any new kind of physical activity. This is especially true for someone with an underlying health condition such as diabetes, heart disease or arthritis. These maladies can become life-threatening if someone exercises the wrong way.

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    I think exercise is intimidating to many people, seniors included. I have found that "organic" exercise is less scary to some people. To me, "organic" exercise is the kind of exercise you do without thinking "This is good exercise!" Gardening, walking to the store instead of driving, spring cleaning, etc. What else would make good "organic" exercise for seniors? What about seniors with limited mobility?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the honesty @Abbey. To think that this woman lived to be in her mid 90's before she had to slow down and/or stop. Do you think that is was her exercise routine that helped her to live to a ripe old age?

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    In my nursing career, I can safely say that the majority of people that are ill or disabled are not regular exercisers. However, I also agree with Lydia's comment that even when you do exercise regularly, it doesn't ensure you will remain healthy forever. I used to care for an elderly lady who was very active. She was a gym coach and swimming instructor during her working years, and after retirement she continued to swim, walk, and golf. When I began caring for her at the age of 91, she still walked everyday and would go out and hit golf balls when the weather was nice. Over the next few years, though, she developed Alzheimer's which eventually took her mobility from her. The point is, there is no evidence that regular exercise, when performed safely, does any harm, but there is nothing to say that it will prevent disease and illness of all forms either.

  • Sylvia L.
    Sylvia L.

    While I appreciate the encouragement to be active at all ages, I'd like less of the fear-based approach that the last half of this article employs. I feel like there's always so much hype around what happens if we DON'T exercise that people become overwhelmed, feel a sense of defeat and simply give up. I don't think fear is a good motivator.

  • Laura Winzeler
    Laura Winzeler

    I really love this post, Julie. A researcher from Brown University said in an NPR interview in 2011 that exercise is more effective than any other non-invasive treatment for nourishing new connections between brain neurons as we age. Regular walking can also slow further deterioration in elderly people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. There are so many great reasons to walk!

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    Staying active and healthy is crucial for all ages, to be sure, although I do agree with some of the comments. Not all exercise is a good option for all people - if chronic knee or back pain is part of your life, running and other similar exercises are a poor choice. The key is to find ways that allow you stay active within your own limits.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. Exercise is great whether by yourself, at the gym or in a group. If you are currently unemployed, you might want to consider going to the gym and being around others. It can be very depressing when your life turns on a dime so being around people might just be the answer.

  • Thomas M.
    Thomas M.

    Should we mention the increase of Vit D if the senior walks in the sunlight?

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    Exercise has benefits but this article generalizes them. Research shows for example that various factors can cause cancer, and some of them are genetic. We also don't know exactly what causes dementia or Alzheimer's but people who were active adults sometimes get diagnosed with these conditions. It should also be noted that not all exercises are suitable for seniors. For example, I have friends who had to give up activities like running and softball for good at a relatively young age because of knee surgery.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    It is so encouraging to learn that it is never too late to get active and exercise. I think that a lack of motivation prevents many people from committing to an exercise program. What are some strategies to overcome this? Would you recommend joining a gym to be around other people or creating personal goals?

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