“I always tell my trainer I want to be the senior GI Jane,” Kathy Glazer-Chow was quoted as saying in a recent article in The Globe and Mail about senior fitness.

GI Jane was, of course, the iconic movie starring Demi Moore as an astoundingly ripped female U.S. Navy Seal recruit.

The story went on to say: “Kathy Glazer-Chow likes her workouts to be challenging. So, the 71-year-old often ends her three-times-a-week training sessions with several sets of bicep curls using 20-pound weights or some 35-pound kettlebell lifts.”

Never Too Late to Start

A Toronto retiree, Ms. Glazer-Chow is a mid-life convert to fitness who first got into serious workouts as a 48-year-old mother with a six- and eight-year-old. Since becoming a dedicated female “jock” Ms. Glazer-Chow has conquered the 200-kilometre Ride to Conquer Cancer eight times and walks every day.

After some initial reluctance about going to the gym, her husband joined her. “He didn’t like the way he looked,” said Ms. Glazer-Chow, before adding: “Now he is so cut and muscled at 69, it’s frightening.”

“The payoff is you feel strong; you are strong,” she concluded, “I mean, I’m 71; people tell me I look 60 and I feel 40.”

Research Supports That Point-of-View

Fitness activity delivers considerable benefits – both physical and mental – to the older (65+) workout aficionado. Doing anything that makes you breathe harder and elevates your heart rate is beneficial. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that, according to the most recent Participaction Adult Activity Report Card, “only 19 percent of 50- to 64-year-old adults and 15 percent of 65- to 79-year-old adults do so.” Participaction is a national non-profit organization that promotes healthy living and physical fitness.

The Participaction guidelines recommend muscle- and bone-strengthening exercises such as weight or resistance training at least twice a week.

“We tend to become a bit more sedentary with age and definitely engage in less physical activity,” Leigh Vanderloo, an exercise scientist at Participaction, was quoted as saying.

Here are just a few of the proven benefits of physical fitness. Young, aging or just plain old, the payoff is undeniable:

1. Prevent Disease

Studies have shown that maintaining regular physical activity can help prevent many common diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. Exercise improves overall immune function, which is important for seniors as their immune systems are often compromised. Even light exercise, such as walking, can be a powerful tool for preventable disease management.

2. Improved Mental Health

The mental health benefits of exercise are nearly endless. Exercise produces endorphins (the “feel good” hormone), which act as a stress reliever and leaves you feeling happy and satisfied. In addition, exercise has been linked to improving sleep, which is especially important for older adults who often suffer from insomnia and disrupted sleep patterns.

3. Decreased Risks of Falls

Older adults are at a higher risk of falls, which can prove to be potentially disastrous for maintaining independence. Exercise improves strength and flexibility, which also helps improve balance and coordination, reducing the risk of falls. Seniors take much longer to recover if they do take a tumble, so anything that helps avoid them in the first place is critical.

4. Social Engagement

Whether you join a walking group, take group fitness classes or visit a gardening club, exercise can be made into a fun social event. Maintaining strong social ties is important for aging adults to feel a sense of purpose and avoid feelings of loneliness or depression. Above all, the key is to find a form of exercise you love, that way it will never feel like a chore again.

5. Improved Cognitive Function

Regular physical activity and fine-tuned motor skills benefit cognitive function. Countless studies suggest a lower risk of dementia for physically active individuals, regardless of when you begin a routine.

How Do You See Your Future Self?

Canada has a large cohort of baby boomers now entering their retirement years, the overwhelming majority of whom want to continue living independently. Knowing how to ensure that happens is crucial, and staying physically and cognitively fit is part of the equation.

“One of the ways to do that is to ensure regular active movement every single day, as much as we can,” Dr. Vanderloo asserts. “And it’s something to be thinking about even if you’re not yet in that age group.”