Is it too late to start exercising? Fitness professionals are asked this all the time, and here is the answer. No!!! Whether you haven’t exercised in a long time, haven’t ever exercised, are in your early 30s or your late 90s, it is never too late to start exercising.
Today I went to visit a friend in a nursing home. She is ~80 years old, has had numerous health issues, and hasn’t been active in many years. In fact, she has barely been able to get in and out of her chair. But today when I got to the nursing home she was working with physical therapists on standing, tossing a ball, and lifting her legs with ankle weights. Soon she’ll start practicing sitting unsupported and getting in and out of her chair. This is probably the most exercise she’s received in years, and she just left the hospital after a major health episode! It definitely wasn’t too late for her!
We generally think of our 20s as our prime. We’re at the peak of our health and physical functioning. After the age of 30 things start going downhill. Our aerobic capacity, bone mass and muscle mass all start to decrease. Our metabolism generally slows down, our blood pressure starts to go up, and insulin resistance increases. Has our ability to exercise decreased as well?
Obviously aging takes its toll on our bodies and we’re not able to do everything we did when we were young as we get older. But many of these decreases in physical functioning can be reversed through exercise! In an ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) position statement on exercise in the elderly we learn that our aerobic capacity decrease by 5-15% per decade after 25-30 years of age, but… through regular aerobic exercise adults can increase their aerobic capacity by 10-30%! Muscle and bone mass also begin to decrease at about the same time, but can also be improved dramatically just be regularly participating in resistance training exercises (1).
So I have a theory. I think that there is a trade-off between how much our aging limits our physical activity and how much our inactivity limits us as we age. Watching my 14-month-old daughter play, she never stops! She is constantly moving. Adults on the other hand, can sit for long periods of time without moving at all! If we were to just move more throughout the day, I think we would stay a lot healthier. This includes regularly scheduled exercise and spontaneous activity.
If you don’t want to go to a gym or join an exercise class, don’t worry, there are lots of options for you. The easiest activity to recommend is walking, but that doesn’t mean that’s your only other possibility. You could work in the yard, ride a stationary bike, ride a road bike, go golfing, take up swimming, use exercise videos, or get an in-home personal trainer (I’ve heard HomeFit has some pretty great trainers…).
Remember to add in non-scheduled physical activity as well. Break up your sitting time by doing some house chores or work tasks that get you up out of your chair. Play with your kids outside, take a walk around your neighborhood in the evening, go walk around a museum, take the stairs instead of the elevator, etc.
Exercising, no matter when you start, can dramatically improve your health. You will have greater stamina, increased strength and endurance, improved balance and flexibility, a clearer brain, better heart health, lowered diabetes risk, and much, much more!
So to answer your question, no, it’s not too late. Start today!
1. Mazzeo, R. S. Exercise and the Older Adult. ACSM Current Comment.