It’s a fact: These days, we are living longer than ever before. And
as we age, most of us look for ways to not just live longer but to also
One of the best ways to do that, says Torrance Memorial Physician Network
primary care physician and family medicine practitioner Nicole Alexander,
MD, is to keep moving. “There’s definitely a genetic component
to how we age, and there are things you can avoid to nudge your body toward
the positive, such as not drinking or smoking. But exercise—cardiovascular,
strength and flexibility training—is the best way to get blood flowing
to the brain, which is key to aging well,” she says.
In addition to her medical degree, Dr. Alexander has a degree from the
University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, founded by Andrew
Weil, MD, and she specializes in integrative weight loss. She uses the
tools she learned in this intense integrative program in her own practice.
Advantage asked her how she counsels her senior patients on exercise and aging.
Dr. Alexander, you have spoken about the ABCs of aging. What are they?
Psychologist Alan Castel wrote a book on aging, “Better with Age,”
and he says the ABCs for successful aging are A for attitude and activity,
B for balance and C for connectedness or community.
You consider exercise a crucial component to aging well and staying healthy. Why?
Because it checks a lot of boxes. Physical motion is lotion. When you use
your joints you stimulate cartilage growth and flexibility, so yoga is
a great activity. Exercise enhances your moods by elevating serotonin
levels. And it has been proven that because of the enhanced blood flow
to the brain, exercise can decrease cognitive decline. In fact, it has
been shown to be the only thing that works to prevent or decrease Alzheimer’s disease.
What else can exercise do for seniors?
When you are older it’s imperative to keep your heart and brain healthy.
Movement decreases the risk of heart attack and stroke because you are
exercising that muscle, and it also has been shown to decrease blood pressure.
Research has found the benefits include increased mobility and balance
and a decrease in diabetes, obesity, colon and breast cancer, and anxiety
How should someone get started?
The recommendation is for 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five days a
week. I always recommend talking to your doctor about it first, and start
slow and low. Start with 10 minutes of walking, if that’s what you
like to do. When you work up to longer workouts, try to get two days of
weight or strength training and five days of cardiovascular activity,
like walking or dancing. Also try to get flexibility and balance work in—tai chi is excellent for balance.
What types of exercise are most beneficial?
Yoga is good for balance, flexibility and strength. There are apps for
yoga I really like, and the YMCA has a sliding scale for classes, which
makes it affordable. Swimming is excellent, especially if you have joint
issues, knee or hip pain, or balance problems. The only time I would recommend
against swimming exclusively is if you have osteoporosis—you need
higher impact and weight-bearing activity to strengthen your bones. Going
to classes also helps you stay connected, so I highly recommend water
aerobics classes, which tend to be offered in the later mornings when
the gym is quieter and catered to retired people. The more boxes you can
check, the more likely you are to do it.
Are there any types of exercise that should be approached with caution?
I’m not a fan of marathons for seniors—I think that’s
something people do for a mental benefit, not a physical one. But I don’t
think we need to do that sort of extreme exercise. Go ahead and run, but
monitor your body for pain—especially chest pain—and shortness
What about weight training?
A lot of studies show the benefits of weight training for seniors. Because
our muscles atrophy and get weaker as we get older, we need to try and
maintain muscle mass. Weight training will do that and will also help
increase our metabolism, so it’s important. The recommendation is
two non-consecutive days, doing 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise,
making sure by the last rep you are really tired. You can do your whole-body
routine or work your upper the first day, then your lower body the second day.
And what are the social benefits of group exercise and sports?
The National Institute of Aging division of the National Institutes of
Health has published many studies on the social benefits of exercise,
and they also publish an exercise guide for seniors. The National Council
on Aging website has a good fall prevention guide. Both are great resources.
Preventing falls is very much a key to healthy aging. When people start
falling unexpectedly, they need to see a doctor right away. They can get
gait and stability training as well as balance and strength training,
and a portable alert system so they don’t go down without help.
Nicole Alexander, MD, is a primary care physician with the Torrance Memorial
Physician Network. She practices at 3333 Skypark Drive in Torrance and
can be reached at 310-784-6300. Torrance Memorial offers many classes
on fall prevention, tai chi, yoga and strength training. Please refer
to the Torrance Memorial
classes portal for the schedule.