Engaging in exercise training can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never exercised before. It can be particularly intimidating for older individuals to start, as it can be easy to feel out of place in a normal gym environment. However, the widespread physical and mental benefits of exercise make it entirely worth it.
Exercise Reduces Osteoporosis Risk
Osteoporosis is a real risk for older individuals. 1.2 million Australians were affected in 2013, with many unaware of their condition. 1 in 3 women over 50 and 1 in 5 men over 50 have osteoporosis, and without intervention the prevalence of osteoporosis is predicted to rise by 3 million by 2021.
Osteoporosis is a loss of bone mass, commonly occurring in older individuals. To maintain bone there is a balance between bone building cells (osteoblasts) and bone destruction cells (osteoclasts) which regulate the bone tissue of the body and ensure it is kept strong and healthy. In older individuals, the osteoclasts break down the bone faster than it is rebuilt by the osteoblasts, meaning the bone becomes weaker. The increased fragility of the osteoporotic bones means they can break from minor falls or stresses. Bone breaks in older people increase morbidity and mortality, as well as decreasing mobility. Some fractures, such as vertebral or spine fractures can occur without obvious trauma, and simply airse due to degredation of the bone. Significant decreases in function and quality of life have been observed in individuals following osteoporotic fractures. A hip fracture can result in severe loss of function, with 1 in 3 adults over 50 dying within 12 months of the fracture. It’s not all bad news though, osteoporosis can be easily avoided and treated!
There are medications available which may increase bone density by decreasing the bone resorption and stimulating osteoblasts, resulting in increased bone density. However exercise, particularly resistance exercise, is a very effective method of mitigating the effects of aging on the bone. Weight bearing exercise stimulates bone synthesis and reduces bone reabsorption. Resistance exercise helps build muscle, which also places beneficial stress on the bones and promotes increased bone density. Essentially exercise appropriately stresses the bones, stimulating more growth and less reabsorption, improving bone density and reducing osteoporosis!
Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease
The risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with age, possibly due to older individuals becoming increasingly sedentary. Additionally, the risk of heart disease increases with age and is the single leading cause of death in Australia. While these facts, like those mentioned earlier about osteoporosis, can sound scary, exercise can reduce the effects and risks of these diseases.
Exercise can make it easier to control blood sugar levels. When you have type 2 diabetes there is too much glucose in the blood. During exercise the muscles require glucose for energy to contract, hence using the sugar in your blood and reducing your blood glucose levels. Exercise can also be used to reduce the symptoms of cardiovascular disease, improving lipid profiles and lowering blood pressure.
While exercise can be used pre-emptively to reduce the risk of contracting these conditions, it can also be used to improve quality of life for individuals who have already contracted them. It is important that if you do have conditions like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease that you consult your doctor before undertaking exercise. There may be some precautions you need to take in order to ensure you benefit from exercise and do not incur any additional harm.
Helps Individuals Maintain Autonomy
Another benefit that comes from older individuals exercising is it helps them maintain autonomy for longer. It is no secret that as we get older we are able to do less and less for ourselves, meaning we must depend more on others. Being able to maintain independence for longer can help increase quality of life for many individuals.
Regular resistance training helps maintain strength through a wide range of motion. Even simple tasks such as getting out of a chair, climbing the stairs, or putting away items onto shelves can become difficult as we age due to losses in strength. By participation in strength training, individuals are able to perform these tasks without fear of injury and without the need for assistance.
Training can also challenge your balance. Falls are a huge risk for older individuals and can become even more dangerous when coupled with conditions such as osteoporosis. By training to improve balance and strength, the risk of falling is reduced, and individuals are able to maintain healthy, high quality, and independent lives.
Provides a Sense of Purpose and Community
It may sound cliché, but exercising and joining a gym can provide you with a strong sense of community and purpose.
Once retired your schedule can change dramatically. You go from having set work hours and deadlines, to complete freedom. While this can be liberating, for individuals who have worked with schedules for the majority of their life, it can also lead to a strange feeling of lost purpose and direction. There are no longer prescribed goals and challenges, and no daily interaction with the variety of people as you would normally experience in the workplace. It can be easy to become overwhelmed by these feelings and experience decreased mental wellness.
A gym environment brings with it social interaction and a whole new scope of challenges. From what I have discussed with some retired members of our gym, coming in and training with the regulars at their time slot is one of the best parts of their day. They look forward to being able to meet up with their friends and enjoy having new challenges presented for them to overcome.
No Challenge, No Change!
Yes, joining a gym can be a little bit scary, but it is oh so worth it. The benefits to not only your physical but mental health well outweigh the initial fear. If you get the chance, joining a gym will significantly improve your quality of life and health. It’s never too late to start!
By Emily Metcalf