Physical activity can improve the health and well-being of older adults

Including regular physical activity in your lifestyle can reduce health risks associated with chronic disease.

Regular exercise and physical activity are important for everyone, including older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Physical Activity and Health: A Report from the Surgeon General, the benefits of physical activity include:

  • Helps maintain the ability to live independently and reduces the risk of falling and fracturing bones.
  • Reduces the risk of dying from coronary heart disease and of developing high blood pressure, colon cancer and diabetes.
  • Can help reduce blood pressure in some people with hypertension.
  • Helps people with chronic, disabling conditions improve their stamina and muscles strength.
  • Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression and fosters improvements in mood and feelings of well-being.
  • Helps maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints.
  • Helps control joint swelling and pain associated with arthritis.

So where should you start? If you are already active and have no health restrictions, the recommendation for adults is to exercise at moderate intensity for a minimum of 150 minutes a week, along with activities that strengthen your muscles and work the major muscle groups. Moderate physical activities include brisk walking, bicycling at a comfortable pace, swimming or playing golf (if you are able to pull or carry your clubs versus ride a golf cart). Muscle strengthening activities include lifting weights, digging or shoveling in a garden, raking leaves or doing housework, like pushing a vacuum sweeper.

If you have not been active in a while, make sure to start out slowly to prevent injury or fatigue and spread your physical activity out by breaking it into smaller increments during the day. For example, if your goal is to walk for 30 minutes for five days during the week, consider spreading out your walking routine into three, 10-minute walks in the morning, afternoon and evening for five days. It is important to be realistic about what you can and cannot do and to choose activities that you enjoy!

Michigan State University Extension recommends consulting your health professional before starting any new exercise regimen and to follow their advice if you smoke, take medication or have a chronic health condition. MSU Extension offers a number of programs such as A Matter of Balance and Tai Chi for Falls Prevention and Arthritis that promote healthy behavior changes and are designed to improve the overall health and well-being of older adults.  

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