I don’t know about you, but I find it all too easy to sometimes come up with a reason I just can’t exercise on a given day. I tell myself that my life is too crowded with work and meetings, or that I’m too tired from sleeping poorly the night before. Mind you, if I do exercise I always feel the better for it. But there is what a scientist might call an “energy barrier” to finding what it takes within myself to go for a swim at noon or a significant walk after work.
I find that as I get older, it’s not easier to come up with the energy to exercise. So in that sense I can sympathize with people who are now in retirement who find it quite a struggle to work up a sweat on a regular basis. In short, I’m sure it’s easy for older Americans to come up with excuses to avoid daily exercise. And some people do have medical conditions that prevent them from lifting weights or playing tennis.
But it’s also true that most of us, whatever our age, could do better than we do. And the news is that even if you are in retirement, it’s not too late to start to enjoy the good effects of regular exercise. At least that’s the picture painted by a recent study from Sweden reported by the website WebMD.
It was a big study, following 1,800 people for 18 years. People in the study were at least 75 years old when they were enrolled in the program. Half of the participants lived to be 90 years old or older.
Results of the study showed that participants who swam, walked or exercised regularly in other ways lived an average of two years more than those who didn’t. And exercise was the single biggest predictor of how long a person in the study was going to live.
Add in factors like not smoking and having a rich social life, and the study found that elderly people with the healthiest lifestyles lived about 5.5 years longer than those with the worst lifestyles. (The study didn’t include information on diet, a factor that might also make for some significant differences.)
Gisele Wolf-Klein, M.D., of the geriatric education division of the North Shore-LIJ Health System, commented about the study to WebMD.
“It’s been known for a long time that adjusting lifestyle behaviors at any age can be beneficial in terms of health and survival,” she said.
That’s right. Both your health and your very survival can be impacted by working up a sweat each day, and that’s true no matter your age.
Wolf-Klein has one anecdotal example of the good effects of exercise in the elderly. Her mentor was a smoker until he had a massive heart attack after age 70.
“He gave up smoking ‘cold turkey’ after that and began exercising on a stationery bicycle 30 minutes each day,” she said. “He is still doing it at the age of 94.”
No excuses now – let’s get going.
Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.