Even a Little Antiaging Exercise Can Go a Long Way for Older Adults


U.S. National Institute of Health http://nihseniorhealth.gov/exercise/benefits03.html


Scientific studies show that staying physically active and exercising regularly can help prevent or delay many diseases and disabilities. Scientists find that even moderate exercise and physical activity can improve the health of people who are frail, or who have diseases that accompany aging.


Exercise and physical activity are among the healthiest things you can do for yourself, but some older adults are reluctant to exercise. Some are afraid that exercise will be too strenuous, or that physical activity will harm them. Yet, studies show that exercise is safe for people of all age groups and that older adults hurt their health far more by not exercising than by exercising.


An inactive lifestyle can cause older people to lose ground in four areas that are important for staying healthy and independent: STRENGTH, BALANCE, FLEXIBILITY and ENDURANCE. But research suggests that exercise and physical activity can help older people maintain or partly restore these four areas.


Growing older doesn't mean people have to lose their strength or their ability to do everyday tasks. Exercise can help older adults feel better and enjoy life more, even those who think they're too old or too out of shape. Increasing strength and endurance make it easier to climb stairs and carry groceries. Improving balance helps prevent falls. Being more flexible may speed recovery from injuries. If you make exercise a regular part of your daily routine, it will have a positive impact on your quality of life as you get older.


Margaret Richard: The immediate benefits were very apparent. I started developing muscle tone. I felt more vigorous. My balance improved. And there were benefits that I wasn't even aware of (20 years ago, like) increasing the density of my bones and making my metabolism more efficient. Now we understand that it's more than skin deep, the advantages. But, it's also nice to look in the mirror and see that your shape is defined by your muscles rather than body fat. I feel young. I feel wonderful when I exercise. It makes me feel vital. It makes me feel alive. It makes me feel like I'm doing something wonderful for myself and sometimes, even if I'm a little tired when I start working out what I look forward to is, well, the process of working out, but also the end of the workout when I feel very relaxed and I love everyone.


(For more details and videos, See http://nihseniorhealth.gov/exercise/toc.html)


Fitness Building Blocks: Endurance, Strength, Balance and Flexibility


Four areas of fitness are key to staying healthy and independent, according to Exercise: A Guide, by the National Institute on Aging, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the U.S. Public Health Service's Office on Women's Health. They are endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance.


What You Should Know 



Endurance comes from aerobic activity - anything that increases your breathing and heart rate. Walking, swimming, dancing, cycling, and jogging are great examples of fun activities that build endurance. Not only do they improve your stamina, they reduce the risk of certain diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.


Strength Training

Strength training builds muscles, strengthens bones, and helps prevent diseases associated with weak bones and muscles, such as osteoporosis. It also increases the body's metabolism, which, in turn, keeps weight and blood sugar in check. Strength training usually refers to weightlifting, but it also can include such sports as cycling, hiking, and bowling.



Flexibility comes from stretching exercises, which help you move more freely. Although stretching doesn't burn as many calories as aerobic exercise, it helps prevent injuries and improve posture. Stretching is especially good for people with weak backs and arthritis or other joint pain.



Although your balance can deteriorate with age, you can improve it through exercise. Good balance helps prevent falls, a major cause of injuries that often lead to dependence. Exercises to improve balance strengthen leg muscles.


There are exercises you can do at home to improve your endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Remember that your workouts don't have to be physically punishing to be effective. The key is to do some sort of physical activity for an accumulated 30 minutes over the course of every day, if possible.



The National Institute on Aging offers a free Exercise Guide


It provides exercise examples, target heart rate, exercise schedule and progress charts. The entire text can be viewed online. They also offer a companion 48-minute video for only $7.  http://www.nia.nih.gov/exercisebook/


National Osteoporosis Foundation

The National Osteoporosis Foundation discusses exercises for healthy bones.

URL: www.nof.org/prevention/exercise.htm


American Council on Exercise

The American Council on Exercise discusses, among many topics the importance of stretching exercises and how yoga can improve both flexibility and strength ("Is Yoga For You?")

URL: www.acefitness.org/fitfacts/fitfacts_list.cfm



Related Links on AARP Webplace 


AARP Exercise Information

Exercise (Physical Activity) for Older People and Those With Disabilities



American Heart Association: Scientific Position


Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for developing coronary artery disease. It also contributes to other risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, a low level of HDL ("good") cholesterol and diabetes. Even modest levels of physical activity are beneficial.


AHA Recommendation


Older adults and people with disabilities can gain significant health benefits with a moderate amount of physical activity, preferably daily. Physical activity doesn't need to be strenuous to bring health benefits. What's important is to include activity as part of a regular routine.


For older adults, this moderate amount of activity can come from


Greater amounts of physical activity can bring more benefits. But it should not be done excessively, or your risk of injury will increase.


People with disabilities are less likely than people without them to engage in regular moderate physical activity. Still, they can benefit from exercise such as these:


Those who are physically active longer or more intensely will derive greater benefits.


What about moderate-intensity activities?


Scientific evidence also supports the notion that even moderate-intensity activities, when performed daily, can have some long-term health benefits. They help lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Here are examples of such activities:


For the elderly, walking, gardening, yard work and dancing are the most popular moderate-intensity leisure activities. Golf, badminton, croquet, shuffleboard, lawn bowling and table tennis are also recommended for older people.


Muscle-strengthening activities are also important for older people to reduce the risk of falling and improve the ability to perform daily tasks. The loss of strength and stamina attributed to aging is due, in part, to reduced physical activity.


Both older adults and people with disabilities should consult their physicians before starting a new physical activity.

AHA Scientific Statements:

Statement on Exercise
CV Policies at Health/Fitness Facilities
Physical Activity in Primary and Secondary Prevention

Related AHA publications:

(See also our material on Joyful Dancing)

Health News

Author: Gary Gilles 9/23/2002, Editors: Andrea King, Joanne Poeggel, Clinical Reviewer: Patt Panzer, M.D., M.P.H.


It was once believed that lifting weights was too strenuous for older people, but a new study suggests that resistance exercise can improve strength and endurance in older men and women. The study, published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, reveals that both low- and high-intensity resistance training offer the same benefits to healthy older adults.


Low-intensity exercises include high repetitions with lighter weights. People in high-intensity training use heavier weights, but do fewer repetitions.


Lifestyle Is More Powerful Than Genes


These findings confirm that individual lifestyle choices - not genetics - have a greater influence over the aging process. People who exercise on a regular basis get the following benefits:


Why Is Resistance Exercise Important?


Without regular exercise, people start to lose muscle strength in their 30s. At 60 or 70, the lack of muscle strength is quite noticeable - as well as physical limitations that result from the loss. People with reduced muscle strength have a hard time performing such simple tasks as getting out of bed or carrying groceries. Consequently, many people adopt unhealthy sedentary lifestyles.


Resistance training, or exercising with weights, helps maintain and restore muscle and bone density strength. You use muscle strength to perform such activities as climbing stairs and other daily tasks.


What Activities Should I Include in My Exercise Routine?


Health professionals suggest scheduling exercise into your daily routine. The more consistently these are practiced, the greater the benefit. While resistance training has many important benefits, your well-rounded exercise routine also should include:




1. “Exercise for Health Aging,” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, September 19, 2002.

2. Vincent, K.R., et al.: “Resistance Exercise and Physical Performance in Adults Aged 60 to 83,” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, June 10, 2002.

3. “Promoting Active Lifestyles Among Older Adults,” National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, July 23, 2002.

4. “The Latest Research on Resistance Training and Aging,” American Federation for Aging Research, 2001.

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