The importance of physical activity as you age

It’s inevitable…we all get older! And as we age, our bodies change resulting in the decline of both our physical and cognitive function. But why do some people seem to age “better” than others? Obviously differences in our genetic make-up play a big role, but our lifestyle can play an equally important role.

Research has shown that the more time you spend sedentary (inactive), the greater the risk for cardio-metabolic disorders. Findings also suggest that sedentary behaviours are strongly associated with lower odds of successful ageing. So the first step in “better” ageing is to reduce sedentary time – think of all those activities you do sitting, like watching TV, reading books, driving, knitting…the list can go on and on. How can you reduce time spent on these activities and/or break up these activities over your day?

It has been estimated that about half of the physical decline associated with ageing may be due to a lack of physical activity! Without regular physical activity, people over the age of 50 can experience a wide range of health problems. Unfortunately, many adults fall short of achieving the recommended levels of physical activity. In fact, 56% of Australian adults are either inactive or have low levels of physical activity – that is more than 9.5 million adults who are increasing their risk of what may be preventable health problems!

The good news is, that it’s never too late to become physically active and positively impact your health! Research suggests that regular physical activity and exercise can help to:

  • slow age-related declines in physical function;
  • prevent the onset of chronic diseases;
  • prevent complications for those who already have a chronic disease; and
  • reverse the progression of some diseases

Find below some of the impacts of ageing and how exercise can help!

Glucose Metabolism

Ageing can:

  • Increase insulin resistance
  • Increase likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes
  • Make diabetes more difficult to manage
  • Lead to muscle loss which effects the bodies capacity to store and use glucose

Exercise can:

  • Reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and associated complications
  • Assist in regulating blood glucose levels and therefore improve diabetes management
  • Improve insulin sensitivity
  • Increase glucose uptake, usage and storage by muscles

Cardiovascular System

Ageing can:

  • Reduce the elasticity & increase in stiffness of arteries
  • Increase blood pressure
  • Increase risk of heart attack and stroke

Exercise can:

  • Improve the strength and efficiency of heart
  • Improve circulation
  • Increase HDL (good cholesterol)
  • Reduce total cholesterol & LDL (bad cholesterol)
  • Reduce blood pressure and heart rate

Muscles

Ageing can:

  • Reduce muscle mass (sarcopenia)
  • Reduce muscle strength and power and increase the risk of falls
  • Cause muscle tissue to be replaced with tough, fibrous tissue
  • Lead to the development of poor posture
  • Reduce one’s ability to live an independent life

Exercise can:

  • Increase muscle mass (hypertrophy)
  • Improve muscle strength and power and reduce falls risk
  • Enhance the ability to perform activities of daily living and maintain independence later in life
  • Assist with improving body composition (more lean muscle, less fat)
  • Help to maintain correct posture
  • Helps protect bones and joints

Bones

Ageing can:

  • Reduce bone density
  • Increase the risk of an inactive lifestyle leading to bone wastage
  • Hormonal changes (e.g. menopause) can trigger loss of minerals in bone tissue
  • Increase the risk of fractures and Osteoporosis

Exercise can:

  • Strengthen bones and slow the rate of bone and mineral loss (strength training is particularly effective at this)
  • Reduce the risk of falls, fractures and Osteoporosis

Joints

Ageing can:

  • Reduce synovial fluid making joints stiff
  • Lead to thinning and stiffening of cartilage
  • Shorten ligaments and reduce flexibility
  • Increase the risk of inflammatory joint issues like osteoarthritis

Exercise can:

  • Help increase synovial fluid, keeping joints lubricated
  • Reduce joint stiffness and improve mobility
  • Help maintain flexibility into later life
  • Reduce arthritis symptoms such as pain and inflammation
  • Strengthen muscles surrounding joints to provide added support 

Balance & Coordination

Ageing can:

  • Reduce coordination, slow movement and decrease balance
  • Reduce ability to perform activities of daily living that rely on these motor skills

Exercise can:

  • Help increase synovial fluid, keeping joints lubricated
  • Reduce joint stiffness and improve mobility
  • Help maintain flexibility into later life
  • Reduce arthritis symptoms such as pain and inflammation
  • Strengthen muscles surrounding joints to provide added support 

Body Composition

Ageing can:

  • Lead to an increase in fat mass and reduction in muscle mass

Exercise can:

  • Assist in burning extra kilojoules, increase muscle mass and speed up the metabolism, which helps to maintain a healthy weight

Brain Function

Ageing can:

  • Cause structural changes such as decrease in size of the brain
  • Affect cognition such as reduced memory, orientation, language and attention
  • Cause chemical changes such as altering the level of certain neurotransmitters

Exercise can:

  • Slow brain ageing by 10 years!
  • Improves circulation and feeds the brain with nutrient rich blood
  • Increase the brain’s ability to build new brain cells
  • Reduce the risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Improves cognitive function
  • Boost memory and learning skills
  • Improve mood and sleep quality
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Reduce risk of depression

If you are starting a new exercise or have injuries or illnesses that need to be taken into consideration, always consult your doctor and/or seek the advice of an Accredited Exercise Physiologist.

You don’t need to be an athlete, you just need to move a little more than you did yesterday.

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