Stay active! UK health professors says it’s best for seniors

Staying physically active is especially important as we age. Beginning around age 50, we lose 1 percent of our muscle mass each year. Over time, this can negatively affect quality of life and our ability to maintain functional independence.

Exercise is the best medicine to protect our quality of life and independence as we age. Physical activity benefits literally every organ in the body, from our muscles to our brains, promoting not only physical health but also mental and cognitive well being. Physical activity can also help to prevent and alleviate or manage chronic illnesses such as diabetes.

This column, written by Charlotte Peterson, Ph.D., a professor and associate dean for research in the UK College of Health Science, first appeared in The Lexington Herald-Leader in December.

Peterson also serves as associate director of the UK Center for Clinical & Translational Science and co-director of the UK Center for Muscle Biology and UK Human Performance Lab.

Here are some reminders from Peterson for staying physically active throughout our older years:

It’s never to late to start. You can benefit from physical activity and exercise even if you’ve never been an athlete or don’t start exercising until a relatively old age. Start with whatever activity level fits your ability and lifestyle.

Combine endurance and strength training for overall health.

Keep up endurance with aerobic exercise like walking, stationary biking or rowing. This helps maintain energy and stamina to prevent fatigue.

Keep up your strength with resistance or weight training. Free weights, resistance bands, and body weight exercises like squats and push-ups help maintain muscle mass and strength to prevent frailty.

150 minutes of activity is recommended each week. That’s five times a week for 30 minutes.

But some studies show that short bouts of intense exercise are also beneficial. If you don’t have 30 minutes, take the stairs quickly or walk as fast as you can for ten minutes. Any and all movement is good.

Make it social. Find a walking buddy or try an exercise class. Not only is there more fun and accountability with an exercise companion, studies suggest that positive social interactions are just as important to our health as physical activity.

Make it part of your routine.  You’re more likely to exercise regularly if it’s part of your daily schedule and fits in with the rest of your life.

Remember that your body changes with age. Your body likely won’t respond to exercise the way that it did at age 25, and you may not respond to exercise just like your gym buddy does. This physical variability increases as we age, so keep your expectations in line with your own abilities.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky are currently studying why some older adults respond better to exercise than others. If you are over 65 and interested in learning about participating in this research, please submit your information at the following link and a member of the research team will contact you in January 2015.