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Q: What are the benefits of staying active as I age?

Posted May 07, 2014 in Advice Column, Norwalk

A: Getting older doesn’t have to mean giving up activities we enjoy. Although some changes in our bodies naturally occur due to the aging process, there are some things we can do to prolong our good health and prevent loss of function. Staying active provides numerous benefits to our body and our health. Inactivity can shorten our life span and make our later years less enjoyable. Our heart is the most important muscle. It is responsible for pumping nourishment and oxygen to all parts of the body, including your brain. As we age, our bodies become less adept at utilizing oxygen during strenuous exercise. This is why we often cannot work as hard for as long.

Regular exercise increases the size and strength of the heart, thus lowering our blood pressure. It also increases the blood supply to the heart itself, so our hearts don’t have to work as hard. Exercise reduces our risks of heart disease, including strokes, hypertension and heart attacks. If active persons do have heart attacks, they tend to recover more quickly.

In addition, with the aging process, our lungs and connective tissues become less elastic. Our respiratory muscles typically weaken and shorten. These factors can contribute to our feeling “winded” after relatively little exertion. Regular physical exercise can help improve the flexibility of the breathing muscles, make our oxygen usage more efficient, and provide us with higher energy and more endurance. We can then enjoy the activities we like for longer and with less effort.

Information provided by Tami Dickeson, Norwalk Nursing and Rehab, 921 Sunset Drive, Norwalk, 515-981-0604.

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