By Jennifer Marie Toro Galarza, MD
Board certified in Internal Medicine
It’s easy to get discouraged by physical fitness as you get older. Your aerobic capacity decreases with time, especially after age 45 or so, which means you have to work harder to see the same results.
But an active lifestyle can be incredibly valuable for older adults — modest amounts of light exercise can carry real benefits and even reverse some of the effects of aging.
Though Dr. Jennifer Toro-Galarza, who practices at Florida Hospital locations in Ocala and Lady Lake, can treat a broad spectrum of disorders that affect older adults, she would prefer to help her patients avoid them altogether.
“Many of the health problems that come along with age, like arthritis, heart disease and diabetes, are really preventable illnesses,” Dr. Toro-Galarza says. “I know exercise doesn’t always come easily for my older patients, but I’ve seen firsthand how some patients experience life-changing benefits from moderate exercise.”
Dr. Toro-Galarza says these benefits can help your mind as well as your body. Along with keeping your brain active, working your body is the best way to remain sharp as you age.
“Your brain is changing throughout your life, but study after study has found these changes aren’t destiny,” she says.
Here are seven benefits of exercise to take advantage of at every age:
1. Stronger bones: Though it’s natural to wonder about the risk of injuring yourself while exercising, the bigger risk is not exercising at all. Lifting weights and doing other weight-bearing exercises (like walking, climbing stairs and tennis) actually makes your bones more dense, helping them resist fracture.
2. Improved skin healing: It does take longer for injuries and wounds to heal as we get older. However, one study found that older adults who exercised regularly saw their wounds heal up to 25 percent faster.
3. Hold onto your memories: Again, some changes in memory are normal. But the connection between body and mind holds true here, too. Perhaps because it increases blood flow to the brain, regular exercise has been shown to boost memory and thinking skills in general.
4. Finding balance: Dizziness is second only to back pain as the leading cause of doctor’s visits for those over age 65. It’s easy to overlook, but balance is no trivial matter, as getting around safely is a core part of staying independent. Balance is like a muscle, and strengthening it takes practice. Consider the Florida Hospital Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Program.
5. Staying on your feet: Even if you feel independent without exercise today, your future self may not be. Research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society shows that a lack of exercise can make it more difficult to get out of chairs or climb stairs in the future.
6. Holding onto your muscles: It’s not all about cardio. Muscle-strengthening can help slow your decline in muscle mass. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests lifting weights, resistance bands, push ups, sit ups, gardening and yoga as good examples of weight training.
7. Fitness isn’t just weight: While weight management is important for older adults, exercise may be just as — or even more — critical. A study published in Preventive Medicine found older women should worry more about exercising than about the number on their scale. Staying fit produced a much greater health benefit than a controlled diet did.
Fitness guidelines suggest older adults should get two and a half hours of vigorous activity or five hours of moderate-intensity activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In both cases, that should be paired with working out your muscles twice a week.
What does “moderate” or “vigorous” activity mean? If you’re exercising at moderate intensity, by taking a brisk walk, for example, you will be able to talk but not sing. At a vigorous intensity, you probably won’t be able to put more than a few words together without catching your breath.
Because different people tire at different rates, these levels of intensity are different for everyone. What matters is that you tailor your activity for your own fitness level — not what level you think you should be at, or what level others are at.
Dr. Jennifer Toro-Galarza believes in removing barriers to exercise in order to make the healthy choice the easy one. She’s all about helping her patients enjoy the sharper mind and more resilient body that fitness can bring.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Toro-Galarza,
call 352-674-4136 or visit FHPhysicianGroup.com.
7 Surprising Benefits of Staying Fit as You Age
By Jennifer Marie Toro Galarza, MD