What You Need to Know About Exercise As You Get Older

What You Need to Know About Exercise As You Get OlderWhile exercise and weight loss are both important elements of any anti-aging regimen, many seniors worry that the risks outweigh the potential benefits. Exercise at an older age means risking serious injury due to falling, injuring the ligaments of the knee, and other forms of musculoskeletal injuries; the risk is even greater if the person is obese. However, a recent study has found that the benefits from exercise at an older age, and the subsequent weight loss, far exceed any possible risk of injury.

The study—conducted by the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology of the University of Florida—sought to compare weight, improvements in metabolic risk factors, and reported negative musculoskeletal effects in obese women. Two groups were used for the study: 162 middle-aged women between 50 and 59 years old, and 56 women aged 65 to 74.

The women participated in a six-month “lifestyle intervention” to assist them with weight loss. The first phase of these interventions had the women participate in 24 weekly group sessions designed to reduce caloric intake to 1,200 kilocalories, and increase the amount and intensity of physical activity. For the second phase, the women were randomly assigned to one of three year-long follow-up programs that featured biweekly contact—face-to-face, by telephone, or by mail—regarding the progress of their weight loss.

Over the course of the study, the researchers monitored the women’s progress and collected data. The participants had their weight measured and had blood taken before beginning the weight loss regimen, and again six and 18 months later. Any cases of injury, including those caused by the risks of exercise at an older age, were reported.

By the end of the study, the results showed that both groups of women had achieved a significant amount of weight loss over the first six months, and had successfully kept it all off by month 18. The difference in weight loss between the two age groups was insignificant—that means that the effectiveness of exercise for older adults is determined more by the level of effort, and not necessarily age. Older adults should therefore exercise just as much as younger adults.

That said, with greater age comes more benefits from weight loss efforts: the researchers found that the group of older women also showed improvements in blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and C-reactive protein (a liver-made protein that increases with inflammation in the body).

This study ultimately shows that the risks of exercise at an older age are far outweighed by the potential advantages. Weight loss and staying active through exercise at an older age mean less risk of obesity, as well as other diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. If you’re planning to begin a normal regimen of exercise at an older age, discuss your plans and goals with a doctor or trainer at a local gym first to ensure that your weight loss efforts won’t do further damage to your body.

Also, keep in mind that the researchers noted that, based on the study’s results, the older obese women were more likely to develop musculoskeletal injuries than the middle-aged group. That means that exercise at an older age, and any subsequent weight loss, is all the more important for your health and anti-aging efforts as time goes on.

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Rossen, L., et al., “Benefits and risks of weight-loss treatment for older, obese women,” Journal of Clinical Interventions in Aging (Clin Interv Aging) 2013; 8: 157-166.