Most of us know that physical activity provides outstanding benefits, such as maintaining a healthy weight, reducing belly fat, increasing bone density, improving cognitive function and improving sleep quality. But remaining physically active as you age can also help guard against certain chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and some cancers. People who are most fit at midlife, experience better health and reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases after the age of 65.

Physical therapyAt 78 million strong, baby boomers are a generation known for redefining aging. Although boomers are more health conscious, educated and financially secure than previous generations, America’s worsening obesity epidemic has also touched those in this age group and threatens their long-term health and the active lifestyles they embrace.

Adults should engage in aerobic and muscle strengthening activities on a weekly basis, which involves at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of the two, each week. Moderate-intensity activities, done for at least 10 minutes each time, may include brisk walking, biking on relatively flat surfaces or general gardening. Muscle-strengthening exercises that work the arms, shoulders, chest, abdomen, hips, back and legs — the major muscle groups — should be done at least twice per week. In addition, stretching exercises to ensure adequate flexibility are important.

How a physical therapist can help

Many people think of going to a physical therapist only after illness or injury. However, physical therapists are experts in restoring and improving motion in people’s lives. They understand how to help prevent injury from occurring as well as changes in the body that happen with normal aging. With the help of a physical therapist, you can turn midlife into the fittest time of your life.

Physical therapists develop a customized plan of care for each individual — there is no “one size fits all” approach. Through exercises that increase range of motion, strength, flexibility, coordination, balance and endurance, physical therapists greatly improve mobility and motion and can help reduce pain associated with age-related conditions such as frozen shoulder, osteoarthritis and chronic low back pain.

All physical therapists are required to receive a graduate degree – either a master’s degree or a clinical doctorate – from an accredited physical therapist program before taking the national licensure examination that allows them to practice. State licensure is required in each state in which a physical therapist practices.