Why is exercise important for seniors?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Could someone please explain so my mother can understand, why it is so very important to excercise (walking ) when you get older?

Expert Answer

Laura Cheney, a physical therapist who specializes in geriatrics, graduated with honors from the University of California at San Francisco in 2000. She loves her job working as the sole physical therapist at a premier life-care facility in San Francisco. She has written articles and lectured extensively on fall prevention and other issues relevant to the aging experience. As a registered yoga teacher, she teaches yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness techniques to seniors -- helping them expand their repertoire for coping with stress, pain, and illness in the later years.

Exercise enables us to remain as healthy and engaged in a meaningful life as possible. As we age, our muscles weaken; our bones weaken; our cardiovascular and circulatory systems are not as efficient; our balance lessens; our eye sight worsens. All our systems begin to decline. These natural defecits of aging make us much more susceptible to the dangers of inactivity.  Immobility accelerates these natural changes and can even force an elderly person into irreversible functional decline quite quickly--much more quickly than he or she may have otherwise. For example, several days of bedrest for an elderly person can cause so much weakness that it may be difficult for them to get out of a chair, stand, and even walk again. In addition, once the body stops moving, the rest of the organ systems are likely to decline and one can develop pneumonia, infections, bed sores, and other life threatening illnesses.  Finally, exercise helps elevate mood and mental capacity.  Even if an elderly person is not on bedrest, a relatively sedentary lifestyle can cause these same effects but at a slower pace.  We are meant to move. Everything works better when we do. And for an elderly person that can literally mean the difference between life and death.  So when we walk, we walk towards a life of health and vitality--in body, mind, and spirit!