According to a report by the JAMA International Medicine Network, inactive seniors tend to experience a more severe decline in mobility as well as higher mortality rates.
The bad news is that most elderly people in the UK do not meet minimum active lifestyle standards, putting them at risk of serious health problems and premature mortality.
An inactive lifestyle is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular health problems, diabetes and other lifestyle health issues.
It also causes faster deterioration in mobility thanks to weak muscles, stiff joints and loss of balance.
But it’s not just about your physical health.
Seniors who are inactive are also likely to be more lonely. This can aggravate physical health problems and affect mental health.
There are a lot of factors that limit elderly individuals from participating in an active lifestyle including reduced mobility and disabilities such as poor eyesight.
But you should still try to engage in safe physical activities that not only keep your body fit but also provide opportunities to socialize with other people.
Here are some of the biggest benefits of having an active lifestyle.
1. Improved fitness and overall health
A sedentary lifestyle is bad for everyone, regardless of age. But it is especially bad for the elderly.
With your metabolism already slowing down and your lean mass on the drop, spending your days in bed or on the couch accelerates all these health problems.
It puts you at a high risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.
An active lifestyle keeps you fit and healthy. It slows down muscle loss, keeps your joints flexible and keeps your weight in check.
It also indirectly benefits other areas of your life. For instance, you’ll find that you sleep better, your appetite is better and you feel more energetic.
2. Improved mobility
Decline in mobility is a big problem for seniors. For most, it’s inevitable that at some point they’ll have to resort to a walking aid such as a rollator or a wheelchair.
But you can try to maintain your mobility for as long as possible by having an active lifestyle.
Being constantly on the move and engaging in low-impact sports activities such as swimming and cycling strengthens your muscles and keeps your joints flexible. It also improves balance.
All these are essential for mobility.
And even when you finally have to seek extra support from a walking cane or a frame, you’ll still need to be fit enough to use them.
3. Improved mental health
We already know that physical activities can improve physical health and ward off lifestyle diseases. But can it improve mental health and overall cognitive function?
Scientists are still on the issue but some research indicates that, yes, an active lifestyle can improve mental health.
There’s some evidence that regular exercise prevents cognitive decline, maintains speech fluency and improves memory.
According to the NHS, more than 2 million seniors in England live alone and over a million go more than a month without speaking to anyone.
The social isolation can be devastating for their mental and physical health.
An active lifestyle provides ample opportunities to socialize with friends, neighbours and family members.
A walk in the street is an opportunity to catch up with neighbours and chat with kids. Going to the community bowling centre with other seniors is an excellent opportunity to talk and make friends.
How to have an active lifestyle
An active lifestyle is not about going to the gym or swimming pool for just 30 minutes and then spending the rest of the day on the couch.
It should be a wholesome approach to how you spend your day, whether you are deliberately working out or not.
Try as much as possible to integrate physical activities into your day.
Start a gardening project, take a 30-minute walk every day, go to the park, go swimming, try some golfing and whatever else you can manage to do.
If you can find a friend or two to enjoy these activities with, even better.
On those days you are feeling particularly fatigued, there are many gentle activities you can do. There’s yoga for seniors, you can try a slow dance or go shopping.
But don’t forget to take a breather now and then. Rest is just as important for your health.