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Exercise for a Lifetime

Exercise is a critical part of a healthy living plan for any older adult. Yet researchers have found that only 1 in 4 individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 get any regular exercise.

Some older adults believe that they are too old for exercise, citing health problems and fear of injury as two of the primary reasons they don’t participate in regular exercise. However, we know that exercise improves stamina, reduces the incidence of falls, decreases many symptoms of chronic disease, and promotes better mental health. As a matter of fact, many of the symptoms that are associated with old age, such as balance problems and weakness, are symptoms more of inactivity than they are of age.

Just how much exercise is enough for an older adult? The actual amount varies by individual, depending on such factors as age and health. A general recommendation is 150 minutes of exercise weekly. Exercise of moderate intensity can be undertaken for as little as 10 minutes per session, a schedule that feels more manageable for many older adults.

As for the types of exercise, it is recommended that seniors strive to participate in four major types of exercises:

Endurance exercises – Examples include walking, dancing, jogging, and playing tennis. Older adults should attempt to increase aerobic increments from 10 minutes to longer stretches of time.

Strength training – Believe it or not, lifting weights can be a central part of older adults’ exercise programs. Strength training can be incorporated 2-3 days per week and can include the use of free weights, resistance bands, or strength-training equipment at a gym.

Balance exercises – Balance exercises can be used to strengthen the lower body and to develop stability. Strengthening exercises should be performed at least twice per week and include such exercises as leg raises and toe stands, while stability exercises should be performed daily and include heel-to-toe walking and standing on one foot with arms out to the sides.

Stretching/flexibility exercises –Stretching exercises should be performed after completion of endurance or strength exercises and can be completed daily. If done alone, they should follow a warm-up, such as slow walking. Stretching/flexibility exercises may include arm, shoulder, thigh and calf stretches.

An excellent resource for individuals or health professionals to use in setting up an exercise program is Exercise and Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide, developed by the National Institute on Aging at NIH. The downloadable guide includes a variety of useful tools, such as a goal-setting worksheet, daily records for each type of exercise, a weekly exercise and physical activity plan, and a monthly progress test.

If you work with older adults or have an older loved one who needs to become more active, I encourage you to check out this helpful guide.

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