We all know that to age well we need to exercise. I’m sorry to disappoint you but walking, gardening or being “very active” isn’t enough, we need to engage in a proper workout session, especially when becoming older! However, among pilates, cardio, tennis, golf, strength training, yoga, etc. which is the best type of exercise to achieve healthy aging? The answer is that there is no single type of exercise that can take care of all your needs. In fact, to get the most benefits from your routine, you want a mix of activities during the course of a week. Otherwise, it’s like a diet consisting only of one type of food—healthful as far as it goes, but lacking a lot of the nutrients you’ll find in other foods. The perfect fitness regimen is also going to look different according to your specific needs: are you fit, overweight or stressed? Do you have any underlying health conditions? For example, if you are stressed (that means you have high cortisol levels) some form of exercise exacerbates this pre-existing cortisol imbalance. In fact, stress isn’t just in your brain, it’s in your body, too. Endurance training, strenuous HIIT and CrossFit can exacerbate the issue, while yoga and pilates, instead, can act as stress relievers.
Research has shown that it’s important to get all 4 types of exercise: cardio, strength, coordination & balance, and flexibility training. Each one has different health benefits:
- Cardio activities improve the health of your heart, brain, lungs, and circulatory system. They also help prevent many diseases that are common in older adults such as “type 2 diabetes, some form of cancers, heart disease, dementia, etc”.
- Strength training is the best way to prevent “sarcopenia”, which consists in the loss of muscle tone & strength; it also plays an important role in preventing “osteoporosis”. Maintaining strong muscles & bones as you age, help you stay independent and make everyday activities feel easier, like walking, getting up from a chair, climbing stairs, and carrying groceries. Keeping your muscles & bones strong can help with your balance and prevent falls and fall-related injuries. New research has also revealed that strong skeletal muscles play an important role in maintaining an effective immune system as you age.
- Flexibility is a measure of the maximum range of movement (ROM) possible at a joint. Flexibility is specific to particular joints. Improving your flexibility can improve your posture, reduce aches and pains, and lower your risk of injury. Good flexibility helps you to continue carrying out everyday tasks. An impaired flexibility, instead, makes it more challenging to perform activities of daily living, such as reaching items on high shelves or picking up items off the floor.
- Balance & coordination training requires your entire body to work together, otherwise you will fall or stumble. Balance training promotes stables knees, ankles, hips, and shoulders. This can prevent a large array of injuries including falls, sprained ankles and serious knee problems. If you happen to slip or stumble when performing balance exercises, your body needs to re-balance immediately or you will fall. This in turn will improve your reaction time in everyday life. Balance goes hand in hand with coordination, as the foundation for good coordination is good balance. Coordination is the ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently and it is a learnable skill. Coordination exercises utilise an area of the brain known as the cerebellum. Keeping your cerebellum healthy as you age is key, not only to your physical health, but also to your cognitive health and overall sense of well-being, In fact, it is also involved with thinking, processing language and mood. Therefore, exercises that require coordination help to keep you smart and give you better emotional control.
Last but not least, how many times a week should you exercise and how long for? It all depends on your goals and on your health. The good news is that you can still get the same – or even better – benefits of a 60 minute training session in 30 minutes or less. Are you mainly focusing on losing weights? Then, surprisingly, according to a study published in the American Journal of Physiology (M. Rosenkilde et al), 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise is just as effective for losing weight as 60 minutes. Are you instead focusing on improving your strength? In this case, it’s recommend that you focus more time on resistance training and less on cardio, doing 4 days a week of 30-minute resistance training sessions and only 2 days of aerobic exercise. Flexibility, balance & coordination training should be added into your routine as much as you can.
Bottom line: my advice is that you must incorporate the above described 4 types of physical exercise in your weekly routine. Start working out as often as you can realistically workout in a week, and gradually increase the frequency. The best training will always be the one that you will follow consistently!
I wish you all the best,
Dr. Valeria Acampora