Physical Activity For Older Adults

Physical fitness is one of the major cornerstones of maintaining a happy and healthy body, as well as a sharp mind. Despite a growing rate of Americans suffering from obesity, most people recognize the value of maintaining an active lifestyle and engaging in physical activity.

For adults over the age of 65, regular physical activity becomes one of the most important contributors towards a healthy and long life. However, those under 65 abide by a set of guidelines that may not be what older individuals with different needs desire. As a result, a different set of useful guidelines on physical activity are necessary. These guidelines offer older adults with an excellent road map towards a more active and healthy lifestyle.

How Physical Activity Helps Older Adults

Although everyone benefits from regular physical activity, adults over 65 who maintain an active lifestyle benefit most from regular exercise. Maintaining an active lifestyle that involves plenty of moderate to vigorous physical activity can help prevent a wide variety of age-related health problems. Health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure often cause more harm in older adults who maintain a sedentary lifestyle as opposed to more active adults.

Physical activity contributes to older adults’ functional health as they age. Simple task such as walking, gardening, occupational tasks and housekeeping can help keep older adults mobile and active, but physical activities like swimming, jogging, brisk walking and cardio exercises have proven to be especially effective in keeping age-related issues at bay.

These are the benefits that older adults receive by keeping up an active lifestyle in combination with a healthy diet:

  • Show significant physiological signs of improved health
  • Have lower rates of high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and colon cancer
  • Exhibit fewer symptoms of depression and other mental issues
  • Exhibit a higher standard of cardiorespiratory fitness as well as muscular strength
  • Show significant improvement in weight, body mass and composition
  • Less likely to experience loss of flexibility or strength as they age
  • Show lower risks of hip fractures, vertebral fractures or other similar conditions

Guidelines for Healthy Adults Over 65

To maintain overall physical fitness and promote overall health, adults over 65 should follow the guidelines listed below, depending on how much time they can set aside for these activities and the amount of activities they can reasonably perform. These guidelines take into account older adults who have functional limitations or physical impairments as well as those who have chronic conditions:

  • At least 2 1/2 hours (150 minutes) of brisk walking or other moderately intense aerobic activity per week and muscle strengthening activities that focus on all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, chest, etc.) at least 2 days per week.
  • At least 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of jogging, running or other vigorous aerobic activity per week and muscle strengthening activities that focus on all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, chest, etc.) at least 2 days per week.
  • A combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity combined with muscle strengthening activities at least 2 days per week.

For those in search of additional health benefits, these recommendations can be incorporated into a workout routine:

  • 5 hours (300 minutes) of moderately intense aerobic activity per week in combination with 2 hours of muscle strengthening activities per week.
  • 2 1/2 hours (150 minutes) of vigorous aerobic activity per week in combination with 2 hours of muscle strengthening activities per week.

150 minutes of aerobic activity may sound like a lot to accomplish, but this activity is meant to be broken down into manageable chunks throughout the week. For instance, older adults can accomplish moderate aerobic activities in 10 to 15-minute chunks over the course of the week.

So long as you’re doing physical activity for at least 10 minutes at a time, you can schedule your exercises in a way that is most convenient for your daily schedule. Older adults with poor mobility should engage in physical activities that enhances balance and prevents falls while minimizing injuries to falls at least 3 days per week.

Defining Physical Activities

There are a variety of physical activities you can engage in to help improve your help and maintain your physical fitness.

Aerobic activity includes doing things that get your heart beating faster and make your breathing harder, such as jogging, running, mowing the lawn or biking, just to name a few. Even the simple task of walking is a moderate aerobic activity that offers plenty of health benefits. Depending on your current fitness level, you can perform purely moderate or vigorous aerobic activity, or even mix the two together each week. Keep in mind that 1 minute of vigorous activity equals about 2 minutes of moderate activity.

Muscle strengthening activities include lifting weights, exercises that involve lifting your own body weight and vigorous gardening activities such as digging and shoveling. Yoga is also included as a muscle strengthening activity, since it helps strengthen targeted muscle groups while promoting increased flexibility. Many of these activities can be done in the comfort of your own home or in any location if you happen to be traveling or even running errands.

Muscle strengthening activities like push-ups and weights are done as sets with several repetitions (number of complete movements without help). The guidelines require at least one complete set with 8 to 12 repetitions per set. To gain the most from muscle strengthening activities, you should do 2 to 3 complete sets.

Tips for Meeting Guidelines

Here are a few tips and considerations that can help you meet the above guidelines for physical activity:

  • Always be aware of your current physical condition and only perform the recommended amount of physical activity as your health allows. If you’re not used to the standard levels of exercise, you can always start out slowly and work your way up to the above guidelines. You can also consult your doctor to find suitable exercises that easily accommodate optional limitations or physical impairments.
  • Don’t be afraid to exceed the minimum guidelines. Not only does it improve your personal fitness while reducing your chances of succumbing to disease, it also further reduces your risk for certain health conditions.
  • Don’t hesitate to engage in flexibility training while performing other physical activities. Stretching helps maintain and even restore mobility in older adults, making everyday activities much easier to perform. Take an extra 10 minutes to stretch before and after aerobic and muscle strengthening activities. Each stretch should last between 10 to 30 seconds with at least 3 to 4 repetitions.
  • Have fun while performing physical activities. Exercise is always enhanced by maintaining a positive outlook. There are plenty of ways you can make your daily exercise routine fun. For example, you can bring your favorite tunes along in a portable music player while you run, walk or work out at home or at the gym.

Getting Proper Sleep

Sleep and health go hand in hand. Regardless of how old you are and no matter how much exercise you get, getting a good night’s rest is absolutely important for maintaining your physical as well as mental well-being. The human body needs time to recover from the day’s activities – sleep allows the body to repair cell damage that occurs throughout the day and fortify the immune system, which helps prevent diseases.

Most healthy adults require anywhere from 7 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep each night in order to function optimally. However, an increasing number of Americans are becoming more sleep deprived due to an increasingly busy lifestyle. An afternoon nap can do wonders for repairing the body and mind, but for many active seniors, getting enough rest in between their daily activities can be a bit difficult. Older adults may also have trouble sleeping due to a variety of factors:

  • Natural hormone changes such as a decrease in growth hormone levels can cause reduced melatonin levels and resulting changes in sleep rhythm. Adults over 65 often find themselves going to sleep earlier and waking up earlier.
  • Poor sleep habits among older adults can lead to insomnia and other sleep related disorders.
  • Certain medications can lead to chronic sleep problems among older adults.

Here are some ways that older adults can get the proper rest they need to remain healthy and active:

  • Maintain a reasonable sleep schedule and keep your bedtime in sync with when you feel like sleeping, even if it happens to be earlier than normal.
  • Engage in regular physical activity, as it reduces stress and helps release endorphins that make it much easier to sleep.
  • Consult your doctor about medications that interfere with or impair sleep.
  • Limit your consumption of caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants.
  • Take short naps whenever necessary. A short 20- to 30-minute nap can do wonders for improving your alertness, mood and performance.

It’s perfectly normal for older adults to take frequent naps. If need be, you can create certain times throughout the day to take a relatively short nap. However, doing so may have a small impact on your nighttime sleep pattern. Nevertheless, taking a nap can help raise your alertness and eliminate fatigue while improving your own personal performance.

Key Takeaways

  • Regular exercise lowers the risk of disease and illness in adults over 65.
  • Adults over 65 require slightly different exercise guidelines than those under 65.
  • A combination of low and moderate-impact physical activity helps older adults maintain their health.
  • Older adults should exceed the minimum guidelines whenever possible for maximum benefit.
  • Sleep has an extraordinary bearing on an older adult’s physical and mental well-being.
  • Proper exercise and rest helps maintain older adult health.

Physical Activity Resources

The following list provides excellent information on physical activities for older adults:

American College of Sports Medicine
401 West Michigan Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202-3233

American Council on Exercise
4851 Paramount Drive
San Diego, California 92123

President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition
1101 Wootton Parkway, Suite 560
Rockville, MD 20852

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd
Atlanta, GA 30333

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