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Rehab Insights is a blog written by Burke Rehabilitation professionals to offer practical information for patients, families and the community. Its goal is to educate the reader on relevant topics in rehabilitation, general health and wellness.

Why It's Important to Exercise as You Age

July 14, 2015

fitforlife2Here’s a strange truth: By the time you’re done reading this line, you’ll be older than you were when you started. The inescapable fact is that we’re all growing older. But thanks to modern medicine, we are living longer than ever. (Some go as far as to say, seventy is the new fifty!) So is age just a number? The answer is…maybe.

As we age, our bodies go through many changes and although we may try, we can’t completely prevent age-related declines in function—both cognitive and physical. But there’s good news: research suggests that regular physical activity and exercise throughout a person’s life can help slow many age-related functional declines and prevent the onset of diseases related to obesity and sedentary behavior [1-5]. Plus, adjusting your lifestyle to introduce healthy behaviors like regular physical activity can also help to reverse damage caused by a lifetime of inactivity [5-8].

Consistent physical activity plays a large role in predicting successful aging [2,9]. Sedentary behavior is described as any waking behavior characterized by an energy expenditure ≤ 1.5 METs and a sitting or reclining posture2. Research has shown that the more sedentary time you have (independent of physical activity) is associated with increased risk for cardio-metabolic disorders and all-cause mortality in both children and adults2 Findings also suggest that sedentary activities are significantly associated with lower odds of successful aging among middle-aged and older adults2.

In other words: limiting sedentary behavior throughout the lifetime may impact the degree of physical, psychological, and social success experienced by aging adults.

If you realize you are mainly sedentary or currently inactive don’t worry, it’s never too late to start.

It’s well known that exercise and a healthy lifestyle can help with disease prevention and decreased risk for all-cause mortality [4,10]. It is less known that regular physical activity and exercise can also reverse disease progression and limit further manifestation [3, 4, 6-8].

Exercise has been shown to help regulate blood glucose, restore function of vasculature, reverse skeletal muscle aging and reverse coronary heart disease in combination with intensive lifestyle changes [1, 3, 4, 6-8].

Check out the image below:lung image

Notice the differences between a sedentary 74 year old man and 70 year old triathlete. In the athlete, the femur appears thicker, indicating retention of bone mineral density. Plus, muscle mass is retained and adiposity (fatness) is limited.This is a visual example of how age can be experienced very differently depending on lifestyle and level of physical fitness

If you are looking to begin a journey towards better health, always consult your physician and other qualified professionals before jumping into any new program for physical activity or diet. Remember that small steps are still steps towards your overall goal and the hardest part is taking the first one.  And above all, remember it is never too late to implement healthy behaviors into your lifestyle.

Burke offers a fitness center exclusively for adults over 40 years old and those with qualifying disabilities. There, you can work with certified personal trainers, attend a variety of different fitness classes, including adaptive classes such as adaptive tai chi and yoga, and workout using safe, state-of-the-art equipment. Learn more about the Fitness Center and the programs we offer.

—Kathleen Edsall M.S., CSCS, CET, Director of Community Wellness at Burke Rehabilitation Center 


  1. 1. Wroblewski AP, Amati F, Smiley MA, Goodpaster B, Wright V. Chronic Exercise Preserves Lean Muscle Mass in Masters Athletes. The Physician and Sports medicine. 2011;39(3):172-178.
  2. 2. Dogra S, Stathokostas L. Sedentary Behavior and Physical Activity Are Independent Predictors of Successful Aging in Middle-Aged and Older Adults. Journal of Aging Research. 2012;2012:e190654.
  3. 3. Leskinen T, Sipilä S, Kaprio J, Kainulainen H, Alen M, Kujala UM. Physically active vs. inactive lifestyle, muscle properties, and glucose homeostasis in middle-aged and older twins. Age (Dordr). 2013;35(5):1917-1926.
  4. 4. DeSouza CA, Shapiro LF, Clevenger CM, et al. Regular Aerobic Exercise Prevents and Restores Age-Related Declines in Endothelium-Dependent Vasodilatation in Healthy Men. Circulation. 2000;102(12):1351-1357.
  5. 5. Pollock RD, Carter S, Velloso CP, et al. An investigation into the relationship between age and physiological function in highly active older adults. J Physiol. 2015;593(3):657-680.
  6. 6. Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, et al. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. JAMA. 1998;280(23):2001-2007.
  7. 7. Melov S, Tarnopolsky MA, Beckman K, Felkey K, Hubbard A. Resistance Exercise Reverses Aging in Human Skeletal Muscle. PLoS ONE. 2007;2(5):e465.
  8. 8. Hambrecht R, Wolf A, Gielen S, et al. Effect of Exercise on Coronary Endothelial Function in Patients with Coronary Artery Disease. New England Journal of Medicine. 2000;342(7):454-460.
  9. 9. Katzmarzyk PT, Church TS, Craig CL, Bouchard C. Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2009;41(5):998–1005.
  10. 10. Barry VW, Baruth M, Beets MW, Durstine JL, Liu J, Blair SN. Fitness vs. Fatness on All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-Analysis. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. 2014;56(4):382-390. doi:10.1016/j.pcad.2013.09.002.

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Burke's Rehab Insights blog is intended to provide general information about rehabilitation and other health care topics. It should not take the place of medical care. Burke staff cannot comment on individual medical cases or give medical advice.

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