Why the Type of Exercise Matters for Physical & Cognitive Health
Exercise is incredibly beneficial for your body, mind, and soul. Most people participate in one type of exercise or activity, like jogging or gardening, and feel confident they're doing enough. However, research shows that all four types of exercise are essential for health, including endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility - each providing different benefits. By switching things up, the variety prevents boredom and increases your body's overall resilience and longevity. It also upscales your fitness level by several notches, no matter your age.
Exercise helps manage your weight, improves mood, mental health, sleep quality, sex life, boosts energy, combats chronic disease, eases quitting smoking, and sharpens thinking, learning, and judgment skills.
Endurance Exercises for Younger & Older Folks
Endurance or aerobic exercises increase your heart rate and breathing. This helps strengthen your heart, lungs, and circulatory system, bones, and delay or prevent diseases, especially in older adults, including heart disease, diabetes, breast and colon cancer, and more. And you get a heady rush of endorphins, helping you feel relaxed and energized.
A 2019 study published in Neural Plasticity showed that endurance exercise increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its receptors in nerve tissue. BDNF is a brain protein that plays a role in the growth, maturation, maintenance, and survival of neurons. It helps secure lightning memory recall, sharp thinking skills, and emotional well-being.
The study showed this increase in BDNF improves motor skills, function, and blocks the development of diseases, such as Parkinson's disease and metabolic syndrome. Researchers also found that it improves cellular and structural aspects of the spinal cord and skeletal muscles. And it elevates dopamine in the brain that helps regulate metabolic processes, reduce weight, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure.
Activities that build endurance include:
- Brisk walking or jogging
- Yard work (rake leaves, mow lawn)
- Playing Tennis or Basketball
Research shows you naturally lose about 3-8% of muscle per decade after age 30, losing muscle mass, strength, and function if you neglect to exercise. This loss skyrockets after age 60, severely weakening your body, putting you at risk for falls, and can lead to disability and dependence. This muscle loss is accompanied by weight gain, loss of bone density, joint stiffness, insulin resistance, leading to diabetes. Plus, you shrink in height.
One study showed that older women who broke their hip were unlikely to fully recover their pre-fracture quality of life, even after 10 years. So, to ensure you're able to continue to climb stairs, carry your groceries, get up from a chair, and go about your daily activities, adding strength or resistance training is critical for improving muscle strength and tone.
You can choose weights or stretchy elastic bands, also known as resistance bands. Beginners should start with the lowest weights and resistance and build up gradually. First, find an instructional video online like those below, so you learn the proper and safe movements and steps. Then work up to at least twice a week and exercise all your major muscle groups to support your posture and joints.
Some beneficial resistance exercises include:
- Lifting weights (soup cans work too)
- Carrying groceries
- Squeezing a tennis ball
- Overhead arm curl
- Arm curls
- Wall push-ups
- Lifting your body weight
- Using a resistance band
Remember to breathe regularly during strength exercises, and DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH! Breathe out when you're lifting or pushing and breathe in while relaxing. Talk to your doctor if you're unsure about your exercise plan.
Aging comes with muscle and bone loss, diminishing eyesight, hearing loss, dizziness, and light-headedness. Each can affect your balance and put you at risk for falls, destroying your golden years, and may result in early death. Research shows that balance exercises improve coordination, joint stability in knees, ankles, hips, and shoulders. It improves body awareness, known as proprioception, a sense of where your limbs are oriented in space, preventing clumsiness. And it improves reflexes and your reaction time if you slip or stumble.
A 2015 review in Sports Medicine found that older adults are less stable and have more sway under different conditions (e.g., eyes open/closed; stable/unstable surface). It showed that the loss of standing time, gait speed, duration, and posture control were associated with 2-3 times increased risk of falls.
Researchers found that balance training in adults around age 65 improved 4 core aspects, static/dynamic steady state (steadiness), proactive and reactive performance (reflexes), and balance. The study examined a routine of balance training 3 times a week for about 30-45 minutes each.
Some balancing exercises include:
- Stability ball
- Balance board
- Standing on tiptoes
- Walking up & downstairs
- Tai Chi or Qigong (slow, precise "moving mediation" while breathing deeply)
- BOSU ball
- Balance class
- Heel to Toe Walk
- Balance Walk
- Standing on one foot
Use a chair to steady yourself until you're confident.
Stretching helps keep your body flexible. Flexibility allows you to continue your daily activities, such as tying your shoes and looking over your shoulder while driving. The American College of Sports Medicine's guidelines for exercise has amended their routine recommendations. They now suggest strength and power warm-up routines before working out and stretching exercises after cardio/aerobic endurance exercises.
Studies show that regular stretching enhances force, jump height, and speed performance. And for older folks, stretching significantly improves the ability to sit-to-stand, reach for things, walking distance, and time. It also showed an increase in flexibility and joint range of motion.
Harvard Health also states it helps lengthen and stretch muscles, preventing back pain and injuries.
Aim for different muscle groups. Focus on a few muscle groups one day and change it up on another. And breathe normally, don't over do it, or stretch too far until it hurts.
Again, remember to warm up and cool down before and after all exercise activities, drink plenty of water, exercise outdoors, dress in layers, and use safety equipment (chair when balancing, helmet when biking, etc.). And have fun as you remain flexible, alert, sharp, and young at heart!