Exercise and Aging: It’s Never Too Late to Start

Liz Dreifuss, AgingEmpowered Intern

Considering how to make 2020 your best year yet? It is never too late to start a new activity! That is more than true for Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins who at the age of 100 years young took up running after retiring her love for cycling. At 101 “Hurricane” set a world record for her 100 meter dash at the Senior Games. This past year,  at 103, she won gold medals in both the 100 meter AND 50 meter dash! WOW! 

While setting records may be a prominent part of Julia’s life, that does not mean it has to be the same for you! You do not have to be a gold medal winner or past exerciser to start moving your body.

While the commonly known benefits of exercise are related to physical health, many researchers point to physical activity benefiting cognitive, psychological, and social health outcomes as well. In fact, Just 20 minutes of exercise a day has been shown to improve cognition, mood, and overall, quality of life (3)!  This post highlights forms and benefits of exercise, as well as where to try them out in Columbia, Missouri.

Cognitive  (Thinking) Benefits of Exercise

By the year 2050, 106.2 million individuals are expected to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, researchers are finding connections between increased physical activity and declines in cognitive impairment in older adults (6)

Psychological (Mental and Emotional Health)  Benefits of Exercise

Considering adults ages 60 years and above, depression deems to be the most common psychiatric disorder within the population (5). Engagement in exercise has been shown to lower the effects of depressive symptoms in older adults. 

Social Benefits of Exercise

Social interaction or engagement in social activities, such as working out in a group setting, has benefits to physical and psychological wellness. Older adults who participate in activities that promote social engagement have been shown to have lower blood pressure and decreased depressive symptoms 4. Overall, social engagement not only benefits the health of older adults, but it can function as an incentive for older adults to participate in health-seeking behaviors such as an exercise program. 

The National Institute of Health (NIH) has categorized exercises into 4 categories: Endurance, Strength, Balance, and Flexibility. 

Endurance: Walking 

Why it is beneficial: Light to moderate physical activity such as one-hour of walking per week has been shown to reduce the risk for heart disease (7).

How to get started: Columbia has a great trail system where you can take leisurely walks. Ask a friend/s if they would like to join and start a bi-weekly walking group! Click below to get information on the various trails! 

Trail Guide & Map

Endurance: Dancing

Why it is beneficial: Dancing not only supports heart health, but research has found that dancing can even increase self-esteem and support social relationships, as many times dancing as an exercise takes place in a group (2)

How to get started: Columbia Senior Center offers many activities for aging adults including dancing! Check out their monthly schedule of activities here!

Endurance: Swimming

Why it is beneficial: Swimming is a great low impact, full-body workout. It is found to not only improve strength but improve dimensions of cardiovascular health such as blood pressure (9)

How to get started: The Activity and recreation center (ARC) offers water aerobics classes as well as other activities. You can either swim laps, water walk, or take a water aerobics class!  

Strength: Weights

Why it is beneficial: This just in… Lifting weights does not mean you have to look like the Rock! Researchers have found a plethora of physical and mental benefits related to resistance training. Specifically, strength training your core down to your legs can prevent the risk of falls 3

How to get started: Wellness on Wheels offers personal training on the go. Kyle Patrick is a personal trainer in the Columbia, MO area who assists older adults with their plan of fitness and goals in the comfort of their own homes! If this service interest you, he can be contacted through e-mail: [email protected]

Balance: Tai- Chi

Why it is beneficial: Older adults who participate in exercise programs are at a lesser risk for falls and this finding is especially salient for programs that challenge balance (8)

How to get started: The Armory sports center offers Tai-Chi classes every Wednesday and Friday. Click Here for more information!

Flexibility: Yoga

Why it is beneficial: This dynamic exercise has the ability to build strength and flexibility, as well as minimized depression and anxiety (1)

How to get started: Alley Cat Yoga and the ARC offer a variety of yoga classes! 

There are MANY different ways, besides those listed to become active in later life. What is most important is to find something you LOVE doing!  And if you set your sights on breaking records, let us know. We are your cheer squad! 



  1. Buffart, L.M., van Uffelen, J.G., Riphagen, I.I. et al. Physical and psychosocial benefits of yoga in cancer patients and survivors, a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. BMC Cancer 12, 559 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2407-12-559
  2. Cynthia Quiroga Murcia, Gunter Kreutz, Stephen Clift & Stephan Bongard (2010) Shall we dance? An exploration of the perceived benefits of dancing on well-being, Arts & Health, 2:2, 149-163, DOI: 10.1080/17533010903488582
  3. El-Khoury F, Cassou B, Charles M, et alThe effect of fall prevention exercise programmes on fall induced injuries in community dwelling older adultsBritish Journal of Sports Medicine 2015;49:1348.
  4. Greaves, C. J., & Farbus, L. (2006). Effects of creative and social activity on the health and well-being of socially isolated older people: Outcomes from a multi-method observational study. The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, 126, 134-142. doi: 10.1177/1466424006064303
  5. Heinzel, S., Lawrence, J. B., Kallies, G., Rapp, A. A., & Heissel, A. (2015). Using exercise to fight depression in older adults. GeroPsych, 28, 149-162. doi: 10.1024/1662-9647/a000133
  6. Lautenschlager, N .T., Cox, K. L., & Flicker, L., (2008). Effect of physical activity on cognitive function in older adults at risk for Alzheimer disease a randomized Trial. JAMA, 300, 1027–1037. doi:10.1001/jama.300.9.1027
  7. Lee I, Rexrode KM, Cook NR, Manson JE, Buring JE. Physical Activity and Coronary Heart Disease in Women: Is “No Pain, No Gain” Passé? JAMA. 2001;285(11):1447–1454. doi:10.1001/jama.285.11.1447
  8. Sherrington, C., Michaleff, Z. A., Fairhall, N., Paul, S. S., Tiedemann, A., Whitney, J., …Lord, S. R. (2017). Exercise to prevent falls in older adults: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med, 51, 1750-1758
  9. Yuan, W., Liu, H., Gao, F. et al. Effects of 8-week swimming training on carotid arterial stiffness and hemodynamics in young overweight adults. BioMed Eng OnLine 15, 151 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12938-016-0274-yLiz

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