The Impact of Exercise on Ageing

People over the age of 65 years are generally considered to be entering old age. The cells of the body are not as able to regenerate as they once did. Physical exercise may decrease, however scientists suggest that the lifestyle of a person can predict how they are going to age, and that people can affect how they age through the lifestyle they choose to adopt in their middle age or younger.

The Impact of Exercise on Ageing

The changes are gradual, but a normal ageing process causes the skin to become more lined and wrinkled as elasticity is lost. The oil glands gradually produce less oil, making the skin drier. Hair may begin to thin a little at the scalp, pubic area and armpits. The hair pigment cells decrease and grey hair will begin to grow, which is more wiry and curly. Sight and hearing may become less sharp. Eye lenses become less flexible, affecting close vision while night vision may reduce and glare or low light levels may affect the ability to see clearly. High-frequency sounds may become harder to hear. Changes to posture and the spine may affect height - by age 80, up to 5 cm could be lost.

Due to old age, the bones may lose mineral content, making them more fragile and prone to breakage. The metabolism of the body slows down, with hormone changes meaning that the body stores more fat and loses muscle mass. The brain starts to lose weight and decrease blood flow from the 30s, but it is able to adapt and grow new nerve endings to compensate. The memory changes: it is harder to remember recent events, names and details. Sleep patterns and the circadian rhythms or body clock alter. Sleep may be lighter and night waking more likely or more frequent.

The heart may work less efficiently due to old age and may have to work harder during physical activity. Energy may decline, and people who are inactive may have less efficient lungs. The kidneys may reduce in size and become less efficient when clearing wastes and some medicines from the blood. They may also be less able to handle dehydration than when the body was younger. Urinary incontinence may become more likely, but talking to a GP can help with this. Sexual function may also change: men may produce less sperm, while women will stop egg production through the menopause. Hormone levels lower in both sexes.

Regular exercise will help to keep the body functioning even through the ageing process. Specific types of exercise will help particular body functions. Strength and core exercises will help the body to keep muscle mass, which will in turn, help the metabolic rate to move, helping to keep excess weight off and reduce the stress on the body. Physical activity can improve the function of the lungs, heart, brain and joints by increasing blood flow and therefore the amount of nutrients and oxygen to the parts of the body. Increased blood flow can also ensure the efficient removal of toxins from the kidneys which benefits the body. Taking part in regular physical activity can also help with sleep patterns as people who are physically tired are more likely to sleep well.

The recommended amount of exercise for adults aged 65 or older, who are generally fit and have not got a condition which could limit their mobility, is at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as walking or cycling, every week and strength exercises on two or more days a week. These exercises should work the major muscles. They may also choose, instead to do 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as playing tennis or running, as well as strength exercises, or they can do a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity.

People are also recommended to avoid long periods of sitting, and if they have problems with balance and co-ordination, then they should do exercises which could help to improve co-ordination and balance for at least two days a week. This could include dancing, tai chi and yoga.

People are recommended to see their GP before starting a new exercise regime.

NHS Choices, Physical Activity Guidelines for Older Adults

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