Physical activity helps older adults maintain their health

Being more active can improve the quality of life for older adults.

Regular exercise and physical activity are vital at any age, including for older adults. The National Institute on Aging says that being active helps older adults:

  • Keep and improve strength to stay independent
  • Have more energy to do things
  • Improve balance
  • Prevent or delay some diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis
  • Perk up mood and reduce depression

According to Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, by Dr. Kate Lorig, to get the greatest benefit from physical activity, older adults need to try four types of exercise: endurance, strength, balance and flexibility exercise.

Endurance activity

Many older adults avoid endurance activity, also called aerobic exercise, because they are unsure about how much is safe for older adults. “The most important thing is that some activity is better than none,” Dr. Lorig said. “If you start off doing what is comfortable and increase your efforts gradually, it is likely that you will build a healthy, lifelong habit.” There are three building blocks for a safe, moderate-intensity goal for endurance activity:

  • Frequency means how often you exercise. The Center for Disease Control recommends aerobic physical activity in episode of at least 10 minutes and, if possible, spread it out through the week.
  • Intensity is how much effort you use or how hard you work. Endurance or aerobic exercise is safe at a moderate intensity. You will feel warmer, you breathe deeper and faster, your heart rate will rise moderately and you will still feel like you can continue a while longer.
  • Time is how long you exercise each time you are active. At least 10 minutes is a good starting place. If that is too challenging, start with a smaller amount of time. You can work up from there, with a moderate intensity goal of 150 minutes per week. You can try to attain your 150 minute goal by exercising 30 minutes five days per week.
Strength training

We need to exercise our muscles in order to maintain our physical strength as we get older. Otherwise, our muscles shrink from lack of use. According to the book Living a Healthy Life With Chronic Conditions, moderate-intensity muscle-strengthening exercise of all major muscle groups should be done at least two days per week.

Flexibility exercises

Being flexible means you can move comfortably in your daily life with a minimum of pain and stiffness. A series of gentle stretching exercises done at least three to four days per week can help you improve and maintain flexibility as you get older.

Balance exercises

Falling is one of the most challenging events for older adults. Injury from falls, such as broken bones, is a common experience for those with balance issues. Strong and coordinated muscles in your core and legs are key for good balance. Certain exercises, including qi gong, tai chi, yoga and others are good for improving and maintaining balance.

You can find a free user-friendly exercise book and DVD through the National Institute on Aging website called Go4Life.

According to Michigan State University Extension, once you start exercising and become more physically active, you will begin to see results quickly. In a few short weeks, you will feel stronger and more energetic, and you will be able to do things easier, faster or longer than before. Your body will get used to a higher level of activity and you can continue to build on those benefits by doing more. Be sure to check with your doctor before you begin an exercise program.

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