Are you one of those people who, whenever you feel like exercising, just lie down until the feeling goes away? In truth, if exercise were a pill, we’d all be taking it! As we age, it is even more important to move our body and stay physically active. The question is, Why is exercise necessary, especially for older adults?
There is research evidence that supports maintenance of activity levels, when older, that can actually rival immune systems of 20-year olds. In this brief article, I want to underscore the importance of exercise as we age, as a key to immune system health. (Here is a good read about maintaining a healthy immune system.)
First, let’s acknowledge several reasons, as science confirms, why exercise is invaluable to overall health:
- Our connective tissues become more dry and inflexible as we age. Therefore, activity and increased water consumption are important to maintain joint flexibility and moisture.
- Our bones become more vulnerable to injury as we grow older. Weight-bearing activity, like walking, helps maintain bone health and density.
- Exercise and movement help oxygenate (as does plenty of water!) and revitalize cells.
- Movement is necessary to activate the Lymph system to expel toxins and cellular debris.
- Exercise supports a healthy immune system.
Perhaps the most important reason to engage movement and activity, at any age, is to support a healthy immune system. Our immune system needs to be bolstered regularly, even as it is in natural decline as we age, and exercise is a critical strategy.
The Problem: Declining Immune System as We Age
The immune system naturally declines by about 2-3% a year from our 20s. Accept this harsh truth because it is a consequence of aging! For many people this decline may be higher because of unhealthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle, chronic low-grade stress, environmental toxicity, disease or chronic injury, and more. Consequently, as we age, we must be quite dedicated to the health of our immune system.
Older people are more susceptible to infections, diseases, and body conditions affecting health, and a declined or compromised immune system is often the case. For this reason, active older people represent the perfect group in which to analyze the true effects of biological aging.
To monitor immune system health, researchers look at markers in the blood for T-cells. These specialized cells help the immune system respond to new infections. They are produced in the thymus, a gland in the chest, which normally shrinks in size in adulthood. However, in older adults with dedicated exercise lifestyles, the T-cells can be as abundant as a young active person.
The Simple Solution: Treat Exercise as a Daily Pill!
If you have a sedentary lifestyle, or seem strapped to your computer chair or recliner, especially in a sitting position for hours, you may be in trouble. Sedentary behavior — as the opposite of exercise — has been associated with an increased risk for METABOLIC SYNDROME. Metabolic Syndrome is a cluster of unfavorable markers including abdominal obesity, high blood pressure and low HDL “good” cholesterol. These unfavorable markers, in turn, are associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Being sedentary goes against evolution because humans are designed to be physically active. The benefits of regular exercise have wide-ranging effects for the body, mind, muscles and our immune system. As an active older man, I understand the benefits accrued by my regular daily 5-mile walks, yoga, tai chi, hiking, gardening, and the like. I am certain I have a bolstered immune system, but it took effort, especially the past 6 years recovering from Lyme disease.
My certainty is supported by a recent study in which active older adult long-distance cyclists were determined to have immune systems rivaling 20-year-olds. (Aging Cell) Of course, long-distance cycling is unique and is only one activity researchers looked at. What is important to understand is this: dedicated daily movement and exercise are critical to overall body health (joint flexibility, muscle oxygenation, and more). You don’t have to strive to be an aged athlete — simply be physically active, and mentally engaged!
My Experience with Exercise and Lyme disease
During my intense and suffering six years of Lyme disease (contracted at age 63), as difficult as it sometimes was to get past mental and physical inertia, I continued to exercise. My main form was simply walking. Living amongst rolling hills and woodlands with many trails, I meandered, wandered, and sauntered the uneven terrain. This oxygenated my muscles and cells, stretched the protective fascia sheath, created upright posture and gait, cleared my mind, reduced stress, flushed my lymph system, and more.
During my rehabilitation, a vigorous Immune System was my goal. Exercise was a critical part of my objectives. Today, at age 71, I am certain I have a fit immune system — I can feel it inside always balancing out my efforts and regenerating cellular energy. Plus, I also feel mentally alert!
The Conclusion: MOVE YOUR BUTT!
Prolonged sedentary activity should be broken up to reduce the risk for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Here are a few tips:
- First, get medically checked out to determine your current level of fitness. This will help determine the types and extent of activities you can engage in.
- Engage in appropriate elevated physical activity for your age and fitness level at least 150 minutes a week.
- Increase water intake (very important!).
- Get good rest and sleep to help regenerate body cells
- Consider supporting your exercise with restorative herbal remedies. A good topical salve and relief spray can give specific targeted-relief. An oral remedy (like a tincture) can broadly enter the bloodstream and move throughout body systems to offer support and regeneration.
While we can’t give health advice of any kind, we sure do know a lot about herbs and are happy to speak with you at any time about their properties and proper usage.