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Research shows that exercise and physical activity can be used to modify insidious aging patterns and the great thing is it’s never too late or too soon to make exercise part of your routine.

Exercise benefits adults of all ages, and its advantages for older adults are especially noteworthy.

Ageing is associated with a cascade of morphological and physiological changes that naturally predispose older adults to progressive weakening, functional decline and diminished quality of life1. However evidence shows that exercise and physical activity can be used to modify such insidious ageing patterns and the great thing is it’s never too late or too soon to make exercise part of your routine. Older adults and people who may be coping with chronic conditions can benefit from a workout plan that fits their lifestyle. In fact, exercise does far more than just keep your body moving, it can actually turn back the clock.

More and more research shows that regular exercise can help your brain, bones, heart, help you look and act younger and it doesn’t require you to be an Olympic athlete to get these health benefits2. You don’t have to go to the gym and break a huge sweat and you don’t have to lift enormous amounts of weight or run a marathon!

Although the concept of successful ageing is subjective, it has been proposed that successful ageing is multidimensional, encompassing social and productive activities, the maintenance of high physical and cognitive function and the avoidance of disease and disability. In an attempt to determine predicators of successful aging, two longitudinal ageing studies were initiated at Duke University. The first study involved 276 men and women aged 60 to 90 every two to four years over a 20 year period. The sample size of the second investigation included 502 men and women aged 45 to 70 and tracked participants for 8 years. Data examined from both studies identified several significant factors that could be classed as predictors of longevity and of successful aging. The findings of these studies suggest that in order to age successfully, older adults should not only be physically active but also socially, intellectually and culturally active too3.

Physiology of Ageing

The process of ageing has also become synonymous with anatomical and physiological deterioration. The body’s organ systems, in particular the muscular, skeletal, respiratory and cardiovascular systems must cooperate to maintain a constant internal environment (homeostasis). As a consequence of ageing, a decline in one system often interferes with the performance of another. Overtime, functional loss can interfere with all aspects of life – including individual’s physical abilities, mental well-being, and productivity. We can speculate or wonder if these changes are truly part of the “normal” ageing process, or can individuals intervene by making lifestyle choices that slow age-associated decline?

If you’re over 50 and reading this article you may be asking yourself if it’s too late to begin making positive changes?

What happens to our Muscles and Bones?

The major functions of our muscles are to maintain posture, stabilise joints, move the body and regulate body temperature. As we get older, muscles lose size and strength which can contribute to fatigue, weakness and reduced tolerance to exercise. Muscle fibres reduce in number and shrink in size, which cause the muscles to become stringier, less elastic, and less capable of contraction3. In fact, it may surprise you to know that muscle fibres experience detrimental effects of aging by the age of 30 and by the age of 80, muscle strength is half of what is used to be.

Our skeleton is the structural framework that supports the body and provides attachment points for muscles and tendons, protects internal organs, assists in movement, stores and releases minerals and houses red bone marrow. Unfortunately aging has a dramatic effect on the bone in our skeletal system. As we age, the structure of bone changes and this results in loss of bone tissue. Low bone mass means bones are weaker and places people at risk of breaks from a sudden bump or fall. Bones become less dense as we age for a number of reasons. Firstly, an inactive lifestyle causes bone wastage. Secondly, hormonal changes such as, menopause in women triggers the loss of minerals in bone tissue. In men, the gradual decline in sex hormones may lead to the later development of Osteoporosis. Lastly, bones lose calcium and other minerals1,3.

The good news! How can exercise help?

Exercise is essential for “every-body”. When we exercise, our muscles pull on our bones, which in turn build bone. Consequently exercise aids in the construction of stronger and denser bones. As a rule of thumb, 30 minutes of bone building exercise 4-6 times a week can help maintain better bone density. Exactly how much you need is dependent on the type of activity you do, how long you do it for and your age. In fact, a well-balanced strength training exercise program is essential as it reduces muscle loss that comes with age, builds the strength of your muscles and connective tissues, increases bone density, lowers the risk of injury and assists in easing arthritic pain. Likewise studies have found that muscle-building exercise can also improve balance, reduce the likelihood of falls, improve blood-sugar control, and improve sleep and mental health.

What happens to our Respiratory and Cardiovascular system?

The cardiovascular and respiratory system work together to deliver oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from body cells. The cardiovascular system consists of the heart, blood vessels and blood, where the respiratory system includes the lungs, nose, trachea and breathing muscles such as the diaphragm. All components of the cardiovascular and respiratory system are generally effected by aging, however it is important to differentiate between changes that result from “normal” aging as opposed to those resulting from the development of a disease3.

The effects of ageing on the respiratory and cardiovascular system are similar to those that occur in other organs and systems whereby maximum function gradually declines. Findings show that age effected occurrences cause a decreases in peak airflow and gas exchange, measures of lung function such as vital capacity (the maximum amount of air that can be breathed out), weakening of the respiratory muscles and a decline in the effectiveness of lung defence6. Furthermore the cardiovascular system is also affected with age, as the elasticity of the heart wall decreases and the heart valves thicken and become more rigid. Interestingly the valves are up to 25% thicker at the age of 80 than they are at the age of 30. In combination, the changes in your cardiovascular system associated with normal aging can significantly increase your chances of experiencing high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, heart attack or stroke1,3,5.

The good news! How can exercise help?

A key basis of exercise for older adults is that it facilitates increases in overall physical activity and in particular aerobic power, which tends to fade due to age related factors, both “normal” or as a result of disease. Its been known that consistent structured aerobic exercises and physical activity decreases age related morbidity and cardiovascular mortality. Remarkably recent guidelines state that older adults should participate in 30 to 60 minutes of moderate aerobic activity on at least 5 days per week. This duration of up to 60 minutes can in fact, be achieved through 10 minute segments throughout the day. Again low impact resistance training is also beneficial and recommended under existing literature1,3,4. It provides a mechanism to safely initiate activity and grow sufficient physical capacities to gradually achieve broader training goals. However, all types of structured exercise protocols should be completed with care and based upon capabilities of the individual. Hence seeking expert advice before commencing is highly recommended.

Clearly as we age there are detrimental impacts and changes to the body. However there is extensive research evidence that supports the importance of regular physical exercise as a way of reducing the detrimental effects of aging. Furthermore no matter what age you may be, you can always make a positive change to your health and well being by taking initiative and incorporating daily exercise in your lifestyle routines.

No matter your age or perception of “successful ageing”, our Personal Trainers here at Great Shape Bayside can support you to achieve your goals by developing a specific exercise routine that targets your needs and lifestyle in compliance with existing best practice and research.


1.Swank, A. M., & Hagerman, P. S. (2010). Resistance training for special populations. Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Cengage Learning.

2. Anti-Aging Powers of Exercise | Fitbie. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.fitbie.com/get-fit/tips/anti-aging-powers-exercise

3.Gallahue, D. L., & Ozmun, J. C. (2002). Understanding motor development: Infants, children, adolescents, adults. Princeton, N.J: Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic.

4.Build Muscle, Strength Train for Better Health. (2006). Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/the-basics-build-muscle-for-better-health

5.Effects of Aging on the Respiratory System - Biology of the Lungs and Airways - Merck Manual Consumer Version. (2005). Retrieved from https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/lung-and-airway-disorders/biology-of-the-lungs-and-airways/effects-of-aging-on-the-respiratory-system

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