by KAYLAN GRAHAM, M.D.; Scripps Clinic, Carmel Valley

Debunking Five Common Myths About Exercise and Aging

adv_scripps_grahamDon’t let common misconceptions about exercise keep you on the couch. Maintaining or starting an active lifestyle becomes even more important as we get older. Physical activity increases mobility and balance, improves chronic conditions, increases lean muscle mass, and helps you lose or maintain a healthy weight. Get the go-ahead from your primary care physician before starting a new exercise program. Your doctor will have some suggestions on a routine that suits your needs and situation.

Myth One: I’m too old to exercise.
You’re never too old to be physically active. No matter what your health and physical abilities are, older adults gain significantly by being active. Exercise can help restore strength and flexibility, as well as help you look and feel younger and stay independent.

Walking, water sports, yoga and tai chi are good ways to start exercising. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the goal is to do at least 150 minutes, or two-and-a-half hours, of moderate-intense endurance activity each week. Aim for activity at least three days a week and include the four types of exercise: aerobic (endurance), strength, flexibility, and balance.

Myth Two: Exercise is only good for the body.
In addition to physiological advantages, exercise also benefits your mind, mood, and memory. It may even slow shrinkage of the brain as we age. Exercise strengthens the connections, called synapses, in the brain that are essential for brain health and may even increase capillary development in the brain so that more blood supply, nutrients, and oxygen reach it.

Myth Three: I’m too weak.
We do lose muscle mass as we age, but exercise helps keep muscle tissue healthy. Basic strength training with weights is particularly important to halt the loss of muscle and keep you stable and strong enough to perform day-to-day activities, such as getting out of a chair or carrying the groceries. If you have pain, stiffness, and fatigue, exercise can help you manage your pain and reduce it over time. The key is to start gently.

Myth Four: It’s too expensive.
You don’t have to join a pricey health club or invest in equipment to exercise. You can avoid expensive options and focus on low-cost activities such as walking, hiking, or swimming.

Myth Five: Exercise puts me at risk of falling.
The opposite is actually true—the more sedentary you are, the greater the likelihood that you will fall. Physical activity, especially strength and power training, prevents bone loss and builds strength and balance, which helps to reduce your risk of falling. The National Council on Aging at partners with organizations throughout the United States to offer community-based programs that help reduce fear of falling and increase activity and self-confidence among older adults. Your local community center or YMCA can also be a good resource.

Kaylan Graham, M.D., is an internal medicine doctor at Scripps Clinic in Carmel Valley. Dr. Graham provides comprehensive care for adults, focusing on preventive medicine. She speaks Spanish,
as well as English.

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