Exercise has benefits. Hiking connects you with nature. Playing pickleball with friends strengthens social support. Going for a jog helps relieve the stress of a busy day.
Exercise also improves health. It can help you live longer, prevent disease and even treat some medical conditions. While most people realize exercise is good for them, many aren’t sure which exercise is best for them.
My colleagues and I recently put together a scientific review to answer this question for women 60 and older. The answer? For the longest, healthiest life, any exercise is good, and more is better.
At least 150 minutes (two and a half hours) a week of moderate-intensity exercise — equivalent to a brisk walk or playing pickleball — can reduce the chance of developing heart disease and prevent premature death by up to 30%. Similar amounts of exercise can also prevent diabetes and high blood pressure. If exercising this much is unrealistic for you, don’t worry! While most benefits come from this “dose” of exercise, less exercise still improves your heart health and length of life.
In addition to preventing disease, exercise — especially moderate- to high-intensity exercise like hiking, swimming or indoor cycling — can treat some conditions.
For certain people, it can:
- Lower blood pressure as much as many prescription medications can
- Reduce symptoms of depression as much as or even more than prescription medications can
Even low-intensity exercise can be incredibly beneficial to your health. Regular physical activity can help prevent dementia in older adults. Activities involving sequenced movements — like tai chi — are particularly helpful, as they exercise your mind and body at the same time.
Tai chi also reduces your chance of falls, which are a major risk factor for fractures. For older women, practicing tai chi or another exercise that requires balance, such as yoga, for more than three hours a week can cut the chance of having a fall nearly in half.
Preventing falls is important, but exercise can also help you if you do fall. Exercise can strengthen your bones and decrease your risk of fractures. Resistance exercises keep your bones strong. They include lifting weights, using resistance bands, hiking uphill and doing body-weight exercises like squats and lunges. Walking is not adequate weight-bearing exercise for bone health, despite what you might have been told. For most women, walking alone is not enough to maintain bone density and keep bones strong enough to prevent fractures.
So why exercise?
- Playing pickleball can keep you connected with friends, prevent heart disease and help you live a longer life.
- Hiking can relieve stress, strengthen your bones and lower your blood pressure.
- Practicing tai chi in a park can immerse you in nature and prevent dementia and falls.
Anyone can do it, and everyone can benefit.