Anti-Aging
Updated: Sep 6, 2022

5 Benefits of Exercise for Aging Adults 

5 Benefits of Exercise for Aging Adults 
Published: Sep 6, 2022

The over 65 population in the US is expected to double by 2030, reaching about 20% of the population. The prevalence of osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers increases with age. Body composition also changes with aging due to a 5% to 25% decrease in resting metabolic rate, which leads to increased body weight and body fat even when diet and exercise habits are unchanged.1

Testosterone, a sex hormone with both androgenic and anabolic properties, and growth hormone, both decline after age 30. Over a lifetime, decreasing testosterone causes a gradual decline in muscle mass by about 10% each decade, in strength by about 2% to 4% each year, in power by about 8% over three years, and a decrease in bone density.2 Decreasing testosterone also causes a shift in body composition with an increase in abdominal fat. 

Decreased physical activity, weight gain, and decreased muscle mass and strength are an unhealthy spiral that increases the risk of chronic diseases, falls, and disability. Research in aging and age management has increased over the last few decades. Very effective medications are now available to treat obesity, a chronic disease that increases with age. But medication alone does not reverse the damage brought on by poor diet and inactivity. It is also important to prioritize exercise. 

Start with a gradual increase in walking throughout the day and increase progressively until you can do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. Investing just 20 to 30 minutes a day in exercise can go a long way toward fighting the aging process. 

Read more: 7 Exercises for Older and Overweight Individuals 

older woman with arm flexed

Exercise Can Help to Preserve Muscle Mass

Exercises can be divided into aerobic (endurance) and resistance (strength training). They both have their benefits, but people looking to preserve and even increase their muscle mass and fight age-related reductions in muscle mass (sarcopenia) need to engage in regular resistance exercise. 

Resistance exercise can2

  • Increase muscle mass
  • Increase muscle strength
  • Increase muscle power
  • Improve how the nervous system and muscles work together
  • Cause changes in muscle cellular and subcellular structure
  • Increase mobility
  • Improve balance
  • Enhance cognition, memory, and mood
  • Reduce disease susceptibility
  • Improve surgical outcomes
  • Prolong independence
  • Prolong lifespan

Resistance exercise causes muscle protein breakdown and rebuilding to increase muscle mass. This requires adequate protein consumption and progressively overloading the muscle using good exercise techniques. Resistance exercise is considered safe for all age groups.2

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that older adults participate in a minimum of two resistance training sessions each week. In one study, researchers found that older adults made the greatest gains in muscle strength and mass when they had two higher-intensity and one lower-intensity resistance exercise session each week.2

The progressive decline in muscle mass and strength associated with testosterone and growth hormone declines accelerate after age 65. By age 80, up to 50% of peak skeletal muscle mass may be lost. Sarcopenia is associated with frailty, disability, and a reduced ability to complete normal activities of daily living.3 

Muscle building treatment plans can help support and help aging adults meet their fitness goals. Sermorelin is a growth hormone secretagogue. It prods your body to produce more growth hormone, which can increase muscle mass and bone density.

bone density tests

Exercise Increases Bone Density

Bone mineral density (BMD) declines with age, starting around age 50. Bone resorption is faster than it can be replaced. An increase in bone turnover rate causes bone loss. Women lose up to 20% of their bone density in the 5 to 7 years following menopause. After this, the rate of decline is about 0.5% to 1% per year. Men also lose bone density, but the loss starts later in life and proceeds at about 0.5% to 1% per year

Vitamin D influences bone, muscle, and fat tissue throughout life. Low vitamin D consumption or decreased exposure to ultraviolet light combined with decreased bone density increases the risk of bone fractures and frailty.1 

Exercise can increase bone density, but only certain types. Muscle contraction must put a load on bone tissue to increase bone density. The more stress and strain put on bone, the more it remodels to accommodate the increased force. Repetitive non-weight-bearing exercises have a minimal effect on bone density. 

Exercises with the greatest effect on bone density include:4

  • Ones with the greatest strain magnitude on bones: gymnastics, dance, power sports
  • Ones with greater strain rates: jumping activities
  • Ones with higher strain frequencies: running

In addition to exercise, bones need nutrients to support and maintain bone tissue. Bone treatment plans are specially designed to meet these needs. 

man falling

Exercise Reduces the Risk of Falls

Exercise increases muscle strength and power, which improves balance and coordination. This can help compensate for some of the expected changes with aging: 

  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Tighter joints and ligaments
  • Decreased cardiopulmonary reserve
  • Slower reflexes
  • Poorer coordination

Staying active throughout the day and exercising puts stress on bones and reduces the risk of osteoporosis, a silent bone disease that many people do not know they have until they experience a bone fracture after a fall. 

Nearly all hip fractures can be attributed to osteoporosis. Hip fractures occur twice as often in women as in men, and their prevalence increases with age. One in three women over the age of 50 and one in five men will experience a fracture because of osteoporosis over their lifetime. More than a million postmenopausal American women will sustain a spine fracture yearly.5

Performing stretching exercises can increase flexibility and reduce the risk of injury. Balance exercises can improve reflexes. A program that incorporates strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility can reduce the risk of falls and the disabling injuries associated with them. 

three people looking at a computer

Exercise Helps to Combat Cognitive Decline

Cholesterol and fatty deposits in blood vessels and decreased heart and lung efficiency can contribute to age-related cognitive decline. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and reduces blood vessel stiffness and fatty deposits on the lining of blood vessels. Exercise increases brain cell function and growth. In an animal study, exercise increased brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) for at least three months. When exercise ceased, BDNF levels decreased.6

In a study that combined the results of 39 randomized clinical trials, researchers found that physical activity:7

  • Improved brain executive function, including problem-solving
  • Improved episodic memory
  • Improved hand-eye coordination
  • Increased word fluency
  • Increased processing speed
  • Improved cognitive function

Exercise has many other cognitive and psychological benefits, including:

  • Reduces stress
  • Improves mood
  • Improves sleep

The cognitive and health benefits achieved through regular exercise paired with a healthy diet are unrivaled. Cognitive health treatment plans can support your exercise and nutrition plan by providing nutrients linked to better cognitive health.  

woman exercising

Exercise Improves Heart Health

Increased blood vessel stiffness, weight gain, muscle loss, increased cholesterol, and physical inactivity put a strain on the cardiovascular system and increase the risk of heart disease and strokes. 

While resistance exercise is commonly prescribed to increase muscle mass and bone density, engaging in regular endurance exercise is key to improving cardiovascular health. 

Aerobic (endurance exercise) has the following benefits: 

  • Reduces body fat
  • Increases insulin sensitivity
  • Reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Lowers resting heart rate
  • Increases heart muscle strength
  • Increases blood vessel flexibility
  • Lowers blood sugar
  • Reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Increases resting metabolic rate

While the aging process can increase your risk for heart disease, exercise, a healthy diet, abstaining from tobacco use, responsible alcohol use, and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk. Treatment plans supplying nutrients your heart needs can support your heart-healthy efforts. 

Final Thoughts

When researchers tracked activity, they found men spent an average of 35 minutes per day engaged in moderately intense exercise, and women spent about 21 minutes per day. Over three-quarters of recorded physical activity was in bursts of one minute or less. Only 2% of the large representative sample in the study engaged in physical activity for longer than one minute. After age 50, activity levels decreased sharply in all groups studied.8 

A lack of exercise is associated with a worsening of 40 medical conditions.6 Any amount of physical activity will improve your health. It is never too late to start exercising. Before starting a moderate to strenuous exercise program, get a complete physical exam. Start with small goals and gradually increase your physical activity. Your efforts will pay off, as you are more likely to live a longer, healthier life. 

Disclaimer

While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice. 

References

1. JafariNasabian P, Inglis JE, Reilly W, Kelly OJ, Ilich JZ. Aging human body: changes in bone, muscle and body fat with consequent changes in nutrient intake. J Endocrinol. Jul 2017;234(1):R37-r51. doi:10.1530/joe-16-0603

2. Lavin KM, Roberts BM, Fry CS, Moro T, Rasmussen BB, Bamman MM. The Importance of Resistance Exercise Training to Combat Neuromuscular Aging. Physiology (Bethesda). Mar 1 2019;34(2):112-122. doi:10.1152/physiol.00044.2018

3. Galloza J, Castillo B, Micheo W. Benefits of Exercise in the Older Population. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. Nov 2017;28(4):659-669. doi:10.1016/j.pmr.2017.06.001

4. Manske SL, Lorincz CR, Zernicke RF. Bone Health. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 2009;1(4):341-346. doi:10.1177/1941738109338823

5. Sözen T, Özışık L, Başaran N. An overview and management of osteoporosis. Eur J Rheumatol. Mar 2017;4(1):46-56. doi:10.5152/eurjrheum.2016.048

6. Ruegsegger GN, Booth FW. Health Benefits of Exercise. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine. 2018;8(7):a029694. doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a029694

7. Erickson KI, Hillman C, Stillman CM, et al. Physical Activity, Cognition, and Brain Outcomes: A Review of the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Jun 2019;51(6):1242-1251. doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000001936

8. Luke A, Dugas LR, Durazo-Arvizu RA, Cao G, Cooper RS. Assessing Physical Activity and its Relationship to Cardiovascular Risk Factors: NHANES 2003-2006. BMC Public Health. 2011/05/25 2011;11(1):387. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-387

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