Seniors and Physical Activity: 6 Important Questions Answered
Physical activity isn’t just an important health consideration for young people. Seniors need to exercise regularly to maintain good overall physical and mental health and mitigate their risk for chronic disease. Yet, the US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that only 28 percent to 34 percent of adults aged 65–74 exercise regularly.
Some seniors may have concerns about working out, especially if they haven’t been active much throughout their lives or have injuries or diseases that restrict their movements and flexibility. Others simply may be unaware as to where to start or are uninformed about the benefits of exercising regularly.
The following are answers to six questions seniors may have about physical activity.
1. What Are the Benefits of Exercising?
Depending on the exercise, working out regularly can help seniors improve their endurance, balance, strength, and flexibility. Exercising can also help seniors lower their metabolism and maintain a healthy weight, which is especially important considering obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and osteoarthritis, among other health conditions.
Exercising isn’t just about striving to maintain good physical health. It’s also associated with mental health benefits, including reduced stress and decreased risk of depression. Working out with a friend or in group settings can help seniors feel a greater sense of community and improved confidence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers loneliness in older adults a serious public health risk.
2. What Type of Exercises Should Seniors Do?
Most of the appropriate exercises for seniors are low impact, meaning there’s not too much stress placed on muscles and joints. Swimming is one of the best forms of physical activity for seniors. Water provides sufficient resistance to get the heart pumping but is easier on the joints than weights, making it especially suitable for individuals with arthritis. Depending on speed, weight, and stroke, swimming can help seniors burn between 300 and 600 calories per hour.
Water aerobics is another great form of exercise for seniors. Standing water push-ups, flutter kicking, leg lifts, and aqua jogging can improve strength, balance, and flexibility. Other effective forms of physical activity include chair yoga, resistance band workouts, and Pilates.
3. Should Seniors Avoid Any Exercises?
Seniors should prioritize low-impact exercises that don’t place any undue strain on their muscles. People over the age of 65 should consult with a physician before performing intense workouts, but, as a general rule, they should avoid exercises such as the bench press, squats with dumbbells, long-distance running, and high-intensity interval training.
4. What about the Risk of Falling?
Problems with balance can be a constant worry for some seniors since the risk of falling increases with age. Moreover, it becomes harder to recover from falls in advanced age. The National Council on Aging reports that every 19 minutes an older adult dies as a result of a fall.
However, exercising can help improve balance and prevent falls. Flamingo stands and squats and balancing on one foot (with assistance from a trainer if necessary) are great fall prevention exercises.
Physical activity of any kind can strengthen muscles and enhance flexibility and, in turn, improve balance. According to a Harvard Medical School study, exercising regularly can decrease seniors’ likelihood of falling by 23 percent.
5. How Old Is Too Old to Start Exercising?
Being inactive is associated with an increased risk of death and lower quality of life, so it’s never too late to start exercising. While working out with weights or running may be too much of a challenge for some, there are plenty of other appropriate alternative exercise options for seniors with limited strength and/or flexibility.
Seniors don’t need to be in a gym or swimming pool to glean the benefits of physical activity. Simply walking every day, especially outdoors in nature, is a great way for older adults to stay active and decrease their risk for or mitigate symptoms of mental health conditions.
“Identifying the minimum amount of exercise that can benefit the oldest old is an important goal since recommended activity levels can be difficult to achieve,” explains Dr. Moo-Nyun Jin, co-author of an Inje University study examining the benefits of walking for adults over 85. “Our study indicates that walking even just one hour every week is advantageous to those aged 85 years and older compared to being completely inactive. The take-home message is to keep walking throughout life.”
6. How Often Should Seniors Exercise?
While recommended daily exercise goals differ based on age and fitness levels, the CDC says that adults 65 and older should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week, or 30 minutes per day. This could include brisk walking or water aerobics. Alternatively, they can perform 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, including running or hiking. Seniors should also perform muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days per week, as well as balancing exercises, such as standing on one foot.