Slow Aging by Staying Active

Staying physically active is important to maintain health and fitness into old age. Too many Americans do not meet the recommended levels of exercise.

Have you noticed you’re not as active as you used to be?

If so, you’re not alone. 

Just one third of Americans meet the minimum requirements of exercise set by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and 28% of adults over the age of 50 report doing no physical activity at all outside of work.

Physical activity is “any bodily movement produced by the contraction of skeletal muscle that increases energy expenditure above a basal level”. This includes activities of daily living, leisure activity, or what’s required for a desk job. It seems like getting up and down from a chair would qualify as physical activity, so it’s difficult to imagine what 28% of people are doing during their time off. 

Exercise is purposeful effort sustained for a period of time. It’s a subcategory of physical activity that’s planned, structured, and repetitive like riding a bike or working out in a gym.  If you don’t feel motivated to exert any more energy than you have to, exercise is not something you’re apt to do. Some people exercise and others don’t. Those that don’t have their reasons. 

Exercise may feel daunting if you haven’t stayed fit or have physical limitations which make certain activities feel unsafe or painful. But doing no activity at all isn’t the answer. In fact by being sedentary, you increase your risk of all-cause mortality by 20–30%.

If you have adopted a sedentary life, you risk losing not only your health, but your independence as you become less capable of doing whats required to live comfortably.

Use it or lose it

It’s more difficult to build and maintain muscle as you age. 60-plus-year-olds build muscle the same way as younger adults, but it’s a slower process. There’s a difference in gene expression and the biological process of how the body responds to resistance training as you age, so it takes more effort to build the same amount of muscle. 

You lose 2% of upper body strength each year over the age of 65 and approximately 3.4% per year 75 years of age and older. Loss of muscle strength can contribute to a rapid loss of cardiovascular fitness and health. As your fitness levels declines, activities which require more effort, such as walking up hills or doing yard work, become less accessible. 

These facts shouldn’t discourage you, but provide some insight into why the activities you’ve enjoyed seem more difficult with age. It’s also a reason to continue to exercise throughout life. 

How much should your exercise?

The CDC has set evidence-based guidelines of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise plus 2 days a week of resistance training for adults. And this is just to maintain fitness. 

If you are in your 50s and don’t come near those requirements, what kind of shape will you be in when you’re 75? 

And if you are 75 years young now, it’s never too late to start!

Don’t stop moving

Staying active is your best defense against the effects of aging on your health and fitness. If each year you do less, you’ll soon find yourself unable to do more. 

The best way to stay ahead of the game is to stay engaged in activity not only for physical stimulation but for the social connections as well. A recent poll on healthy aging shows that one in three older adults report feeling a lack of companionship in the last year. 

Photo by John Moeses Bauan on Unsplash

Start small

You don’t have to join a gym or commit to exercising every day or all at once. Start small. Just begin to shift your mindset towards a healthier lifestyle and reward yourself every day you get your steps in.

When you move more, or move with effort (aka, exercise), you keep your body prepared for activity. This means that when you need to walk up the stairs, lift a heavy object, or react, your body is ready for it.


Making physical activity a priority in your life is the best way to combat the decline in conditioning that happens with age. If you have health issues that make movement difficult, work with a physical therapist or appropriate professional to help you get started. The important thing is to keep moving. 

If you want come camaraderie, try a class or one of these links: Walk with a Doc, Silver Sneakers, Let’s Move and Exercise is Medicine

Your health could change suddenly from things out of your control. If you are capable of moving, take advantage.  Your mind, body and those who love you will thank you for it!


  1. BMC Geriatrics | Use it or lose it: a qualitative study of the maintenance of physical activity in older adults by Asiya Maula, Natasher LaFond, Elizabeth Orton, Steve Iliffe, Sarah Audsley, Kavita Vedhara, Denise Kendrick
  2. Clin Interv Aging | Age-related decrease in physical activity and functional fitness among elderly men and women by Zoran Milanović, Saša Pantelić, Nebojša Trajković, Goran Sporiš, Radmila Kostić, and Nic James
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | Prevalence of Meeting Aerobic, Muscle-Strengthening, and Combined Physical Activity Guidelines During Leisure Time Among Adults, by Rural-Urban Classification and Region — United States, 2020 by Christiaan G. Abildso, Shay M. Daily, M. Renée Umstattd Meyer, Cynthia K. Perry, Amy Eyler
  4. Journal of Clin Nurs. | Perceived barriers to physical activity among older adults residing in long-term care institutions by Yuh-Min Chen
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General
  6. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep | Physical Inactivity Among Adults Aged 50 Years and Older — United States, 2014 by Kathleen B Watson, Susan A Carlson, Janelle P Gunn, Deborah A Galuska, Ann O’Connor, Kurt J Greenlund, Janet E Fulton

Photo credit:

T Leish on Pexels and John Moeses Bauan on Unsplash


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