4 Immediate Benefits of Exercise for Older Adults

By K. Aleisha Fetters, C.S.C.S. |

Here’s the motivation you need to get moving—right now!

senior couple exercising at home

While the long-term benefits of exercise are certainly worth the wait—stronger bones, more muscle mass, and a healthier heart, to name a few—there are also some powerful perks you’ll experience right away. And in today’s era of instant gratification (thank you, Amazon Prime), the latter may be more likely to convince you to get moving today. 

“Focusing on the immediate benefits of exercise can not only improve your motivation, but also your consistency,” says Samuel Becourtney, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., a physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City. After all, if you know you’ll feel energized and less stressed within minutes of moving, you’re bound to keep coming back for more, he says.  

That’s great, since consistency is the key to reaping the ultimate long-term reward of exercise: more healthy, active years of life.  

So, the next time you’re debating between a quick sweat session and snuggling up on the couch, consider these four side-effects you’ll experience right away.  

Exercise Side-Effect #1: You’ll Feel Energized 

Yes, exercise burns energy, but it also fuels you with energy, says Becourtney. 

That’s because working out gets your blood flowing and helps circulate oxygen throughout your body. It also causes a small spike in your core body temperature, which signals to your body that it’s time to be awake, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine.  

When you’re feeling especially tired, start with low-intensity, gentle exercise like going for a walk or doing some simple stretches or bodyweight movements. Once the fatigue fades, you might find you want to do more.  

Exercise Side-Effect #2: Your Mood Gets a Boost 

According to research from the American College of Sports Medicine, just 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise like walking, cycling, or swimming helps many people enjoy a calmer, happier mood—that lasts several hours after your workout is over.  

One explanation for why this happens is that exercise sets off the release of endorphins—the feel-good hormones in the brain. But it also prompts you get out of your head and focus on the here and now.  

Why that’s good: A Harvard University study published in the journal Science found people are happiest when they’re immersed in the present moment. In contrast, a wandering mind—thinking about something that happened in the past or what might happen in the future—typically makes people unhappy, the researchers say  

For the biggest mood-boosting benefits, do a workout you truly enjoy and can lose yourself in. Haven’t found a form or exercise you love? Here are nine great options for older adults  

Exercise Side-Effect #3: You’ll Think More Clearly 

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We all have days when our brain feels a little foggy. And while you may think a nap is the solution, a quick cardio session might work even better. When researchers at Stanford University looked at the mental effects of exercising, they found that just 15 minutes of moderate cycling on a stationary bike was enough to improve cognitive performance and reaction times for adults of all ages. Their findings were published in the journal Psychology and Aging.  

When we exercise, we increase blood and oxygen flow to the brain, the researchers explain. That extra boost can quickly improve our focus, alertness, and mental sharpness.  

Exercise Side-Effect #4: You’ll Walk a Little Taller
Checking a workout off your to-do list can feel like a giant accomplishment some days. But even if it’s not one of those days, doing something you know is good for you always puts a little pep in your step.  

Plus, every time you show up to a new exercise class, do one more rep than you could before, or achieve any fitness goal, it has a positive effect on your self-esteem, Becourtney says. That’s true even if you didn’t consciously set a goal. A study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found reaching “unconsciously activated goals”—like showing up to the gym or to a virtual class when you’re really not feeling it—still had a positive effect on self-esteem.   

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