Do you work out at the gym on a regular basis but still don’t feel much stronger or more energized in your daily life? This is an increasingly common scenario among seniors, one that generated an important question among researchers. That question is - is planned exercise better or worse than continuous activity throughout the day in seniors?
The answer to that question may surprise you because the authors of a recent study investigating this topic concluded that older adults who stay active throughout the day tend to be healthier than those who work out daily but don’t get much movement throughout the rest of the day.
What did the research paper find?
The research paper was conducted at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. It followed 183 older adults (65-86 years) who were losing weight over an 18-month period. After losing weight, the researchers observed that the participants who maintained activity throughout the day were much less likely to gain weight again than their counterparts who took daily gym classes.
But the reason why the gym group was less successful at maintaining a healthy weight and experienced more muscle loss wasn’t due to the gym exercise per se, it was because the gym exercise had been the only physical activity the seniors did all day. So, even though the gym group got their daily workout, many of them were still less fit than people who did plenty of everyday activities like housework, walking the dog, gardening, and spending time with friends or grandkids.
This study teaches us all a valuable lesson - the fact that we work out daily doesn’t mean that we can relax and sit on the couch all day. While gym exercise is a good way to build and tone muscles, it is not a replacement for an active lifestyle.
For people who don’t enjoy spending time at the gym and don’t like traditional exercise, this is great news, as it allows you to expand the meaning of exercise and allow it to include all movement.
What practical lessons can we learn from this study?
The idea suggested by the study authors is that we should all look to increase daily movement whenever and wherever we can. For one, this means walking to the coffee shop instead of driving there. For another, it could be taking the stairs instead of the elevator. The great part about this approach is that any activity you enjoy counts towards your daily exercise goal. If you love taking walks with friends, do that as often as you can, for example. Trips to the gym also count as exercise, of course, so keep working out if you enjoy it.
Your minimum weekly goal should be around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, hiking, water aerobics, riding a bike, and dancing. This is just a little over 20 minutes a day. If you don’t do active exercises like that, simply moving around every 1-2 hours during the day should give you similar benefits.
If you’re only beginning to dip your toes into this new active lifestyle, it’s okay if you start small and gradually increase the amount of daily activity at your own pace. Even seemingly minor changes like stretching when you wake up in the morning, taking the grocery bags from the car into the kitchen one by one, or checking the mail twice a day count towards your daily goal. Such minor changes are easier to maintain, so they will become part of your life much quicker and help tremendously in the long run.
Share this study with the older adults in your life!