Reconsidering exercise

Your image of exercise may be quite different from mine. Allow me to explain.

In my research as a graduate student, I studied the link between physical activity and well being in adults over 65 years of age.Not surprisingly, I found that exercise decreased the incidence of physical disability, problems walking, and body pain. Remarkably, though, exercise did more than help the body. Participants who exercised reported significantly lower rates of depression and higher levels of well being, proving a powerful connection between exercise and mental health.

These findings turned my idea of exercise upside down. The older adults I studied were not biking the Himalayas or struggling through cross-fit classes. They were gardening, walking, cleaning, and even dancing. I found that these types activities showed the same positive effects on psychological well being as conventional exercise.

The more I looked, the more I appreciated the relationship between physical activity and mental health. The link between the two are so intertwined that it takes only 5 minutes of moderate exercise to enhance your mood. Plus, these benefits only grow stronger with time. Consistent, moderate exercise (think: gardening, walking, cleaning, and even dancing) is correlated with lower rates of depression and anxiety for the long term.

For reasons unknown, some psychologists are hesitant to suggest exercise to older adults. Not me. I know, unequivocally that using an integrative approach, which includes exercise, helps people feel better faster and for a longer duration. My older adults clients know it is never too late to start exercising!

The next time you think of exercise, no need to imagine running a marathon. Instead, envision dancing to your favorite song. Better yet, get up and do it! With the right support, the benefits of exercise are within your reach no matter how old you are.

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