Why adding 10 to 15 minutes of physical activity to your day can help you age well

Written by ParticipACTION

There may be one or two things to dread about getting older, but there’s plenty more to celebrate. Each birthday candle on the cake represents an achievement (you did it!) and an accumulation of life experiences, memories and time spent with loved ones.

That’s not to say that aging doesn’t bring with it some challenges, including a tendency to tire more easily and a few nagging aches and pains – not to mention the occasional injury. But choosing to move your body each day can help you feel better for longer. Living an active lifestyle can help you build and maintain strength and endurance, as well as protect your mental fitness and overall mobility as you age.

With regular physical activity, you’ll simply age better. Here are four ways getting your heart rate up each day helps you age better and enhances your overall quality of life:

  1. It protects your brain. Maintaining an active lifestyle may act as a potent preventative against the cognitive decline that can come with age. Physical activity helps create new cells in the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. This means in addition to keeping you sharper, it may help reduce your risk of dementia. 
  2. It makes you feel happier. Moving our bodies comes with a powerful chemical reaction that simply makes us happy better. Our brains flood with feel-good chemicals that make us smile more, laugh more and be more open to good things. In fact, an active lifestyle is correlated with greater life satisfaction across age groups, and according to the 2021 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Adults, any level of physical activity, including low levels of walking, can prevent depression.
  3. It helps us love better and strengthens social connections. Getting active is a great way to forge greater social connections with friends, family and people within your community, which can offset the risk of isolation that can come with a reduction in activity. Getting out and being with other people such as during a walk, hike, aqua fitness or pickleball class at your local community centre is key to overall health and well-being, especially as we age.
  4. It helps you maintain mobility and independence. Physical activity can improve balance and strength and reduce the risk of falls and injury. Around 35% of people aged 65 or older fall each year in Canada, a risk factor that increases as you age. Muscle-building activities like strength training that focuses on the major muscle groups (legs, core and back) twice a week is a good way to increase strength, while yoga and tai chi can help maintain balance. As stated in the 2021 ParticipACTION Adult Report Card, exercises that target balance, gait and muscle strength have been found to prevent falls in older adults.

However, not enough people living in Canada are getting enough daily physical activity to enjoy these benefits or sustain overall health and well-being as they grow older. In fact, only 16% of adults aged 18 to 79 years are meeting the recommended guidelines for health-sustaining physical activity. But older adults can change that simply by adding 10 to 15 minutes of physical activity to their lives each day.

The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines recommend that adults aged 18 to 64 get 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week (that’s just 20 minutes a day). Adults aged 65 and up are encouraged to reach for this target as well but should prioritize daily movement, sufficient sleep (at least eight hours a night) and reducing sedentary time.

You don’t need to start training for a marathon to enjoy the benefits of physical activity. Here are three ways to start moving your body each day:

Go for a walk or ride around your neighborhood

One of the simplest ways to incorporate physical activity into your day is to start walking. A brisk 20-minute walk each day that sees your heart rate go up and helps you produce a light sweat ticks off all the boxes. A bike ride is another way to get your heart rate up while working the muscles of your lower body. You can track your heart rate with your hand or by using different wearable technologies, like a smart watch of fitness tracker.

Take up gardening

Yard work or gardening is a great way to combine physical activity with an enjoyable hobby. Not only does it get your heart rate up and keep you moving, but it comes with an additional perk: a lovely picture-worthy garden plot or yard. Don’t have a backyard to tend? Look for a community garden in your neighbourhood.

Build strength

Adults are encouraged to get in at least two strength training sessions a week that work the major muscle groups. You don’t need to invest in weights or equipment to strengthen muscles. Bodyweight exercises like push-ups, which can be modified for all levels, or squats and lunges provide excellent opportunities to challenge large muscle groups. Join an online group or check out your local community centre for free classes.To learn more about how physical activity helps us age better, view the 2021 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Adults.