Pamela Garfinkle

Exercising Later in Life Boosts Healthy Aging

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Are you one of those people who never got on board the exercise bandwagon and now think it’s too late to start? Or, do you think that because of the number of candles on the birthday cake, there is no way that you can experience the benefits of regular physical activity: lowered risk for a variety of conditions: heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, high blood pressure, just to name a few?

Well, take heart. A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine finds that regular physical activity later in life boosts healthy aging up to sevenfold. The finding show that benefits of exercise occur no matter when you start!

Much research has been done to demonstrate the connection between physical activity and good health for those taking up exercise in mid-life, but this is one of the first studies to establish that starting exercise relatively late in life also reaps health benefits.

Researchers tracked the health of roughly 3,500 people, average age 64, all born before 1952, who resided in England, and were “disease-free” at the start of the study. All participants were part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

Defining Health Aging as surviving without developing major chronic disease, depressive symptoms, physical or cognitive impairment, the authors assessed the participants’ health over an eight year period.

Researchers found:

  • Those who exercised at least once a week were three to four times more likely to age health fully than those who remained inactive.
  • Those who started exercising during the study period were more than three times as likely as those who stayed on the couch to age healthfully.
  • Those who kept up regular physical activity over the entire period (eight years) were seven times as likely to age healthfully as those who remained inactive.

So, hopefully this information will serve as an inspiration. The gift of health is something everyone deserves. Help boost your odds for a life full of satisfying experiences and free of disease: get moving and keep moving. Stay well.

Depression is not a normal part of aging.

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Growing old. If we are lucky we will all do it.  But, no, it is not for the faint of heart.

There are profound challenges confronting the older adult—  loss; illness and increasing vulnerability; isolation; dependence;  fear of mortality. Depression is not an uncommon problem for seniors confronting these challenges, but it should be recognized that clinical depression is a medical condition that , when properly diagnosed , can be effectively treated.

Depression effects 6.5% of the 35 million individuals over the age of 65, but only a fraction of these individuals actually receive help.  The reasons for this are varied,  and speak to the stigma, misunderstanding, and confusion that this mental health condition confers, not only on the older person,   but also on the health care providers whose job it is to relieve suffering.

The older person themselves may not recognize their symptoms as something requiring medical attention, or even as something that could get better. They may assume that depression is to  be expected at this stage of life.  They may think it is a normal response to grief for example, or to the sorrow they feel for what has been lost.

Feelings of shame or embarrassment may also prevent an older person from sharing their distress with family or doctors.   And if an older person is isolated, without social or family supports, there is no one around to observe and point out that something is wrong.

Depression in the older adult also looks different than it does in a younger person.  Research published in the Applied Journal of Gerontology shows that instead of feelings sad and blue, the older person is apt to feel irritable or tired, have trouble sleeping, lose their appetite or be unable to concentrate.

Depression has, not only psychological symptoms, but also physical ones, and for individuals suffering exclusively physical symptoms, such as poor appetite and fatigue, depression can be even more complicated to treat.

What’s more symptoms of depression can be mistaken for signs of other diseases that are not uncommon in older people, particularly dementia because they can look quite similar.  Others include cancer, stroke, Parkinson’s and heart disease.

While depression is not easy to treat, there are therapies and lifestyle behaviors that can dramatically improve the quality of life for the older adult.  So, be proactive and have your loved one screened for depression