Exercise is key to remaining vital as we age

Geriatrician Dr. David Reuben explains his strategies for aging well.
Two women over 60 walking together

Some form of regular exercise – no matter your age: That’s one of the best things you can do to stay vital, says David Reuben, MD, chief of the division of Geriatric Medicine at UCLA Health.

Exercise is right up there with eating a healthy diet and keeping the brain active when it comes to Dr. Reuben’s strategies for healthy aging.

“You don’t have to be the fastest person in the world. You don’t have to be the strongest person in the world. You don’t have to work up a sweat,” Dr. Reuben says. “There’s just so many benefits that have been shown that exercise is helpful – just doing some of it and doing it regularly.”

Dr. Reuben uses a simple formula to decide whether he should exercise on a given day: “Every day that I eat, I make sure that I exercise.”

He suggests his patients schedule exercise on their calendar, like they would any other important commitment. 

Even people who’ve been sedentary for years can add exercise to their lives, he says: “I’ve had patients in their 90s get started with it.”

Just start small, he says, with maybe a five-minute walk twice a day. After a few weeks, increase to 10 minutes twice a day. Those who can’t walk might consider chair yoga or swimming. The goal is to work up to 45 minutes to an hour of daily exercise.

“It doesn’t have to be strenuous,” he says, “and it doesn’t have to be continuous.”

Lifestyle changes such as exercise can help mitigate the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, Dr. Reuben says.

Tending to high blood pressure or high cholesterol is also important, as cardiovascular disease is associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Following a Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits and vegetables, nuts and olive oil, and low in red meat, is helpful. And cognitive simulation is essential, whether that comes in the form of taking classes, learning to play an instrument or playing games with friends.

“Particularly for older people, staying engaged is really important,” Dr. Reuben says. “This is a great time to be living your fantasies, living your dreams, in terms of engagement.” 

Other strategies Dr. Reuben recommends for staying healthy later in life is keeping current on vaccines and cancer screenings and getting at least seven hours of sleep a night.

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