Doctors nationwide now agree: Exercise is medicine. But just like aspirin or cough medicine, you need to take the right dose. A compelling new study suggests that for some women, more might not always be better.
Exercise is a potent therapy that prevents and treats conditions from obesity to heart disease to dementia. To find out how much exercise was best for older women researchers asked 72 women aged 60-74 to exercise two, four, or six times per week. After 16 weeks, all the women were stronger, fitter, and leaner. But surprisingly, the women who hit the gym only four times per week burned more total calories than those who did six workouts.
What happened? Well, six workouts a week are time-consuming. Researchers theorized that women who did them all were less active throughout the rest of the day, perhaps because they felt crunched for time.
The lesson, study authors say, is that more workouts may not be better if they stress your schedule. What’s more, it’s important to keep moving even after you leave the gym or the walking path. Dance, do housework, garden, or play with the grandkids — whatever makes you happy and fits into your regular routine.
So what quantity of activity is best for your health? The government recommends that each week you do:
If you haven’t been active for a while, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor first. Then, start slowly. Walk for 10 minutes at a comfortable pace or do strength-training moves with 1-pound weights. Over time, increase both the amount of time you spend exercising and the difficulty of your workouts.
Don’t buy the myth that as as you age you should “save your strength” or “take it easy.” In fact, taking it too easy can be harmful. Regular physical activity is very important to your health and abilities. Within just a few weeks of becoming active, you’ll notice that you have more energy and strength. You’ll be able to do things faster, easier and for a longer period of time than ever before.
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“Activity Energy Expenditure and Incident Cognitive Impairment in Older Adults.” L.E. Middleton et al. Archives of Internal Medicine. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21771893. July 25, 2011, vol. 171 no. 14, pp. 1251-7.
“Combined Aerobic/Strength Training and Energy Expenditure in Older Women.” G.R. Hunter et al. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23774582. Jan. 30, 2013, online ahead of print.
Common Questions. Go4Life, National Institute on Aging, 2012. go4life.nia.nih.gov/common-questions
Exercise and Physical Activity: Getting Fit for Life. National Institute on Aging, Aug. 10, 2012 www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/exercise-and-physical-activity-getting-fit-life
Find Your Starting Point. Go4Life, National Institute on Aging, 2012. go4life.nia.nih.gov/print/143
How much physical activity do older adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dec. 1, 2011. www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/olderadults.html.
Making Physical Activity a Part of an Older Adult's Life. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nov. 9, 2011. www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/getactive/olderadults.html.