We all know that exercise is good for us, yet many people are inactive – up to 28% to one-third of the global population never exercise. Sedentary lifestyles lead to a host of physical ailments, from pain to dysfunction to disease to death. Billions of dollars are spent today treating physical conditions that could be prevented (or minimized) through regular exercise.
While some people exercise for a while and then quit, others never even get started. As time goes by, they may tell themselves, “I’ve never been an exerciser,” or “I have a bad knee,” or “It’s too late to start.” And, as people experience some aches, pains and potential performance declines as they get older, they may think that there is no value in exercise, or that it’s simply too uncomfortable.
It’s Never Too Late to Start Exercising
The reality is that these are simply faulty mindsets and excuses that can be overcome with some motivation and dedication. Almost anyone can start exercising at some level and see benefits. In fact, it’s never too late to start exercising. Whether you’re a non-exerciser or a former exerciser, at age 25 or 75, with a doctor’s approval, virtually everyone can improve their fitness level and health through regular workouts.
It’s no surprise that the older we get in the United States, the less active we are, shows a 2016 study in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. But that’s not helping our collective health, as exercise has proven benefits of reducing risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and much more – including mortality. And as the millions of Baby Boomers hit their senior years, it is becoming even more critical to ensure that this large aging population is active, both for their health and that of the economy.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open analyzed individuals who were inactive when they were younger, but then increased exercise levels after age 40. Results indicated a decline in their risk of dying early that was similar to those of regular lifelong exercisers — a 32% to 35% reduction, compared to people who didn’t exercise.
Reductions in heart disease and cancer risk for the recent exercisers also were similar to those who were consistently active. The bottom line: the more you increase exercise, the more you boost health benefits, no matter when you start your fitness regimen. Those who start exercising later in life seem to enjoy an equal benefit as the early adopters.
There is a wealth of research that reinforces this message. One 2017 study found that people who increased activity later in life still reduced their cardiovascular mortality risk by 25 percent. Another long-term evaluation that was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2016 followed twins and indicated that vigorous exercise in middle age can “safeguard” brainpower and memory later in life.
And a well-known study published in JAMA back in 2003 tracked 9,500 women for 12 years, starting when they were at least age 66. Participants who went from being inactive to walking only one mile a day cut their risk of death from all causes and from cancer by nearly half, and their risk of heart disease also fell by more than a third. In fact, this newly active population had early as much protection as continually physically active women.
It’s obvious that physical activity really is a valuable preventative medicine for people of all ages, and, as the research indicates, it’s never too late to start exercising. If you are ready to begin exercising, that’s great news, but don’t just jump right in. For safety and long-term adherence, follow these recommendations:
- See your doctor: No matter what your age, but especially if you are over 50, are overweight or suffer from health conditions, first visit your physician for a physical to ensure that it’s safe to being exercising. Your doctor’s evaluation, plus any test results, can indicate any potential cautions, limitations and recommendations for an exercise routine that will improve, not risk, your health.
- Schedule it: Once you have the green light to exercise, don’t just assume it will happen automatically. You have to plan it into your day and honor that time like you would any important appointment. Start slowly – maybe with 20-30 minutes two to four times per week, but set aside the time and commit to it. If you miss a session, make it up as soon as you can. You are investing in your health, and will experience benefits if you stick with it. And remember, any exercise is better than none at all.
- Home or away: You can exercise at home for maximum convenience, but you most likely will need some equipment or accessories for varied workouts. You don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money, but first determine what you’ll do at home and what machines or accessories that requires. If you’re planning on walking outside, will you want a treadmill of stationary bike for days when inclement weather prevents an outdoor walk? If you’re going to do strength training, you’ll need some dumbbells and a bench or mat at the minimum.
By joining a health club or fitness class, or work with a trainer, you just show up and typically have numerous options for workouts. This not only adds valuable variety, but can increase motivation and adherence, particularly because you are paying for this service. Plus, this is a great social outlet as well, and helps keep you engaged with others.
- Get gear: Of course, all you really need to exercise are some workout clothes and good shoes. Again, this doesn’t need to be a major investment, but take care of your feet and ensure adequate shock absorption and support with proper shoes according to your activity, such as walking, running, cross training, etc.
- Enlist a professional: Consider hiring a personal trainer at a health club or local rec center for expert guidance on a customized fitness routine, plus some built-in accountability. You may only need a few sessions to get started and on track, or you may choose to work with a trainer longer-term as a way to stay committed and vary workouts. If you’re working out at home, you can follow online workouts, use apps or check for recommendations on exercise regimens that you can follow on your own.
- Progress over time: If you just want to walk for 20 minutes a day, that is valuable. But it’s better for your body to add more challenge over time. That doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon, but maybe incorporate a longer walk or a faster pace once per week. Or try hitting some hills periodically.
Even better, balance your regimen gradually by incorporating cardio, strength and flexibility work, so that you build cardiovascular endurance and burn body fat, increase muscular strength and maintain range of motion and mobility. Work your core and challenge your balance to help reduce risk of falls and make it easier to perform activities of daily living. Be open to new activities to keep workouts fresh and your mind engaged. Most of all, commit to regular exercise for a lifetime!