Staying Active as You Age Could Be the Key to Longevity

Many people believe planning for retirement means focusing solely on the numbers. Just as important though, is ensuring you’re healthy enough to enjoy those years.

Financial Sense spoke with Ashley McCue, who holds a doctorate in physical therapy, about the benefits of staying active and how physical activity and, specifically running, can add years on to your life.

Tailor Activity to Fit Your Lifestyle

A study conducted by Dr. Duck-chul Lee of Iowa State University found that runners live three additional years compared to non-runners, even with other unhealthy lifestyle choices. “I see a lot of patients getting into running or jogging,” McCue said. “It is a very important way to stay healthy and keep your body fit, and it's a great way to feel happy and healthy about yourself.”

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An important part of any physical activity is to tailor it to your needs, McCue said. Listen to your body and start with a trial period, perhaps taking five-minute walks at first. It’s best to start with what’s convenient and begin slowly.

From there, McCue said, you can build a foundation and begin to increase the duration of physical activity. It’s important to stick with the activity and maximize your chances to build running or any physical activity into your everyday routine.

“Everybody's different,” McCue said. “I always tell people, do not compare yourself to your spouse, your kids, your neighbor, the person who you're listening to on TV or in a podcast. You have to make it for you.”

Cross Training Is Key

Running is a great way to build flexibility, strength and cardiovascular fitness, but McCue often meets runners who are missing some piece of the puzzle.

Research shows the average person steadily loses muscle mass after age 30 which can represent a 30 to 40 percent decline in muscles mass by age 70. This gradual decline makes cross training exercises key in conjunction with a cardio workout, such as running, a few times a week.

The goal is to stay active and injury-free for as long as possible. McCue focuses on glute and quad strengthening exercises such as squats and wall sits. She also likes bridging exercises to help strengthen the glutes.

“Cross training is really the most important thing,” she said. “Interlace your week with a yoga class or possibly a circuit training class. Swimming is even better, because it’s non-impact. Especially as we age, something that's non-impact such as biking or swimming really helps to keep our joints and our body strong and healthy and not be subjected to injury due to running. That's really key.”

It's Never Too Late

It’s a good idea to set goals for yourself, but trying to go too far, too fast can lead people to quit early.

Do the kind of running that works for you. For some, that may mean trail or road running, while others may find they prefer running on a treadmill.

For competitive types, a 5K run may be a good goal to begin. At 3.1 miles, this can be a great goal to set, but even running one mile is a good start. It can also help to find others to run with, as it helps maintain motivation and provides support. The most important goal is to stick with it.

“Being active is the key,” McCue said. “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. As long as it’s something that makes you feel like you're on the borderline of breathing heavily and you're really making that heart work, it is going to benefit you.”

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