Gone is the belief that growing older means inevitable and irreversible physical decline. Thanks to aging research, including that conducted in the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife, we now know that not only is physical activity possible at any age, but it is beneficial— from staying heart healthy, to helping prevent falls, to slowing the onslaught of dementia.
With winter approaching, the tendency to hunker down in-doors becomes very tempting. Don’t let that happen. From skiing and ice-skating, if those are sports you have enjoyed in the past, to walking, either outdoors or inside in places like malls or museums, winter is no excuse to assume a sedentary lifestyle. However, safety is certainly a concern, and understanding physical changes that do come with age is important.
As a geriatrician who also conducts cardiovascular research, I’m often asked how heart rate changes with age and what should seniors know in order to maintain a safe exercise routine. The good news is that a person’s resting heart rate does not change significantly with age. However, age does take a toll on how a person’s heart rate responds when challenged by physical exertion. Research shows that as we grow older the ability of one’s heart to increase its rate during exercise is diminished.
The good news is, like with other muscles, we can build the heart muscle with training. A more powerful heart can pump more blood with each stroke, which helps older adults compensate for a slower response rate.
So now that I’ve convinced you to stay active even as the days grow colder and shorter, I urge you to also take steps to stay safe. It’s a good idea to learn what a safe heart rate is for you and monitor it throughout your exercise routine. A good source for guidance is the Centers for Disease Control website. You can learn how to determine your training heart rate by clicking here.
Although a moderate walking regiment may not need a doctor’s blessing, you should always consult your primary care physician before beginning anything more ambitious. But the research is conclusive that we can build strength at any age. And, I’m sure we can all agree that a “bigger heart” is something we all would want to cultivate in more ways than one!