From Getting Old Without Getting Anxious by Peter V. Rabins, M.D.
Thirteen Ways Exercise Combats Stress and Anxiety in Late Life
Produces endorphins, which contribute to elevated mood and increased relaxation
Increases levels of serotonin
Aids restful sleep
Banishes worried thoughts
Increases sense of well-being
Encourages social interaction and contact
Reduces blood pressure
Helps relax muscles and reduce muscular tension
Burns energy released by fight-or-flight response
EXERCISE TIPS FOR SENIORS
Check with your physician before you begin exercising, to make sure which type of exercise is safe and beneficial for you. But don’t use physical limitations as an excuse. No matter what your condition or age, there is likely some kind of physical activity that will benefit you.
Ignore old stereotypes. Resist misconceptions that it’s “too late” to exercise, or that exercise might be somehow harmful when you're older. On the contrary, inactivity and lack of initiative are implicated in accelerated aging and many diseases. Loss of muscle mass, or sarcopenia, is now recognized as one of the major contributors to frailty. Regular exercise can help lessen this muscle loss, and the benefits accrue whenever you start. And, amazingly, just eight weeks of exercise can lead to major improvements in strength and lower rates of falling, heart attacks, and stroke.
Pick an activity you love. In fact, try to pick one that you don’t consider exercise, but pleasure. Walking through a nature preserve, for example, can be a way of enjoying a view of nature along with garnering the benefits of exercise. Or ride a bike to visit a friend.
Walk! It doesn’t have to be strenuous. A daily brisk walk of twenty or thirty minutes is most beneficial, but you can start out with five minutes twice a week. A dawdling, window-shopping walk, however, won’t provide the same benefits.
Dr. Andrew Weil says: “Human beings are made to walk. We are bipedal, upright organisms with bodies designed for locomotion. Walking is a complex behavior that requires functional integration of a great deal of sensory and motor experiences; it exercises our brains as well as our musculoskeletal systems.”
Combine exercise with socializing. Square dancing at the local community center or joining in a group water-aerobics class is a way of interacting socially with others, which also improves mood and alleviates stress at the same time as you avail yourself of valuable exercise.
Make it a habit. Exercise should be a sustained and regular part of your routine. General guidelines suggest exercising for thirty minutes per day four or more days a week. Even two days a week can make a difference, especially if you are already in shape. If you’re not fit, sessions should be split into smaller segments and gradually increased in frequency and length.
Do what you can. Even if you’re sedentary or bedridden, there are stretching, toning, and yoga exercises that can be tailored for you and that can help you retain strength and range of motion.
It’s never too late. No matter how old you are, exercise has proven benefits. “I never exercised in my life until I was in my seventies,” Iris reported. “But when I became depressed after my retirement, I started walking with my neighbor after dinner. It helped my loneliness, I lost weight, and my mood really improved.”
(Getting Old Without Getting Anxious, Rabins, Peter V., M.D., London, Penguin, 2005)