Elder man flexing his arm muscle

“Use it or lose it.”

Chances are, you have heard that old expression at some point, possibly in regard to a company’s paid vacation policy, a deadline for a limited-time offer, or another reference to an item with some sense of urgency.

If you happen to be an adult over the age of 60, perhaps that use-it-or-lose-it axiom has been said to you about the need to exercise your mind and body. Whether you have heard it in that context or not, you should heed the advice. It could save your life.

Humans naturally (and inevitably) have diminishing mental and physical capabilities as we grow older, so elder adults have to work harder to offset the effects of the aging process. That fact is especially relevant for people who have retired from a formerly active lifestyle and now find themselves literally “sitting around” more often than they ever used to.

Physical activity is unquestionably an important component of healthy aging, but a report from the National Institutes of Health states that only 28 to 34 percent of adults age 65 and older participate in any leisure time physical activity.

As the population of senior citizens continues to expand around the world, medical professionals are seeing more and more incidences of chronic health problems affecting elder adults, including arthritis, diabetes, strokes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and others. Sadly, many of those conditions are based on behavioral choices, such as smoking, poor diet, and lack of physical activity. Obesity is a major factor.

Because it contributes to the severity of those diseases, obesity in the United States has become a leading cause of premature death. According to a 2017 study from the National Center for Health Statistics in the Department of Health and Human Services, the obesity rate for American men and women over the age of 60 has risen to 41 percent.

The NCHS classifies obesity based on a person’s body mass index, calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. That equation probably sounds very confusing to the average person, but fortunately, the CDC offers an online calculator, which allows you to type in your height and weight (in nonmetric numbers) to do the math for you.

Move away from the screen (after you read this)

Part of the problem is technology. With our many modern devices such as computers, smart phones, video games, etc., the typical American now spends about eleven hours a day sitting in front of a screen. The CDC has stated that the amount of time spent being sedentary is an important risk factor associated with several aspects of poor health, including overweight and obesity and associated metabolic diseases.

Although sedentary behavior is a rather vague term, the CDC research noted that older citizens generally spend about eight and a half hours a day sitting or reclining. The report also stated that there has been shown to be an association between sitting time and negative health outcomes, such as increased risk of cardiovascular disease and all causes of mortality and that individuals who are less sedentary tend to age more successfully and report better quality of life.

Using recommendations set out by the World Health Organization, older adults should have at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week, or 75 minutes of more vigorous aerobic activity (or a combined equivalent of the two). The exercise does not need to be strenuous. Moderate activity includes simple things such as walking, gardening, dancing, or even just basic household chores.

Additional health benefits can be gained by increasing the frequency, intensity, or duration or the activities you choose. If you have been sedentary for a long while, talk to your doctor before beginning any kind of serious exercise program.

Planning for the future

Getting into better shape is a great idea for anybody. However, no amount of exercising, healthy eating, and physical activity can stop the aging process. Ideally we can delay it, but mortality will catch up to us all someday.

That’s why it is so important to have your personal affairs in order now. To protect your assets and have contingency plans in place for your later-life medical decisions, it is essential to obtain a series of important legal documents, including a Power of Attorney, health directives, wills, and other safeguards.

The experienced elder law attorneys at TuckerAllen can provide insightful guidance to help you understand your options and make plans to protect you and your family.

To learn more, contact us to discuss your individual needs.

Healthy Aging Can Depend on Staying Active