We can't stop time. But with the right type and amount of physical activity, we can help stave off many age-related health problems and live life to its fullest. Regular physical activity can benefit your physical, mental, and social health, and prevent or improve many chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, and some cancers. You also can prevent falling by doing physical activities you enjoy and working with a physical therapist to improve your balance, muscle strength, and endurance.
Physical therapists are movement experts who improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement.
Here are nine things physical therapists want you to know to age well:
1. Chronic pain doesn't have to be the boss of you.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016, an estimated 20.4% (50 million) US adults experienced chronic pain, contributing to indirect medical costs, lost work time, and wages. Physical therapist-supervised exercise, mobility, and pain management treatment plans can ease pain while moving and at rest, improving your overall quality of life.
2. You can get stronger when you're older.
Research shows improvements in strength and physical function are possible in your 60s, 70s, and even 80s and older, with an appropriate exercise program. Progressive resistance training, in which muscles are exercised against resistance that gets more difficult as strength improves, has been shown to prevent frailty.
3. You may not need surgery or medication for low back pain.
Low back pain is often overtreated with surgery and medications despite a wealth of evidence demonstrating physical therapy can be an effective alternative—and with much less risk.
4. You can lower your risk of diabetes with exercise.
Nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes, and only 21 million know they have it. Obesity and physical inactivity can put you at risk for this disease. But a regular appropriate physical activity routine is one of the best ways to prevent, and manage, type 2 diabetes.
5. Exercise can help you avoid falls—and keep your independence.
More than one in four older Americans experience falls each year. Despite this statistic, falling is not a normal part of aging. Falls are preventable. A physical therapist can help you assess your risk factors, design a personalized plan with exercises and balance training, and address underlying medical conditions, so you can remain physically active and independent.
6. Your bones want you to exercise.
Osteoporosis or weak bones affects more than half of Americans over the age of 50. Exercises that keep you on your feet like walking, jogging, or dancing, and resistance exercises, such as weightlifting, can improve bone strength or reduce bone loss.
7. Your heart wants you to exercise.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US. Exercise is one of the top ways of preventing it and other cardiovascular diseases. Research shows that if you already have heart disease, appropriate exercise can improve your health.
8. Your brain wants you to exercise.
Physically active people—even later in life—are less likely to develop memory problems or Alzheimer's disease, a condition affecting more than 40% of people over the age of 85.
9. You don't "just have to live with" bladder leakage.
More than 13 million women and men in the US have bladder leakage. Don't spend years relying on pads or rushing to the bathroom. Learn more about physical therapist treatment for incontinence.
For substantial health benefits, adults (ages 18 through 64 years, with and without chronic health conditions and disabilities, who are able) should do at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. This can include an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, with aerobic activity spread throughout the week (HHS).