Thursday, February 9, 2012

Exercise for the Elderly -- There are Tremendous Benefits

By Marlo Sollitto

Reprinted from

The benefits of exercise throughout life are often touted. But is it safe for seniors older than 65 years to exercise? Absolutely. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians almost all older people can benefit from additional physical activity. Regular exercise protects from chronic disease, improves mood and lowers chances of injury.

With age, the body does take a little longer to repair itself, but moderate physical activity is good for people of all ages and of all ability levels. In fact, the benefits of your elderly parents exercising regularly far outweigh the risks. Even elderly people with chronic illnesses can exercise safely. Many medical conditions are improved with exercise, including Alzheimer's and dementia, heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, high blood pressure and obesity.

Regular exercise provides a myriad of health benefits in your mom and dad, including improvements in blood pressure, diabetes, lipid profile, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and neuro-cognitive function.

Regular exercise improves:

Immune Function – A healthy, strong body fights off infection and sickness more easily and more quickly. Rather than sapping energy reserves entirely, recovery from illness should be less strenuous.

Cardio-Respiratory and Cardiovascular Function – Regular physical activity lowers risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. If the elderly person has hypertension, exercise will lower blood pressure.

Bone Density/Osteoporosis – Exercise protects against loss in bone mass. Better bone density will reduce the risk of osteoporosis and lowers risk of falling and broken bones. Post-menopausal women can lose as much as 2 percent bone mass each year and men also lose bone mass as they age. Research done at Tufts University shows that strength training can dramatically reduce the loss of bone mass, help restore bones, and contribute to better balance and less fractures.

Gastrointestinal Function – Regular exercise promotes the efficient elimination of waste and encourages digestive health.

Chronic Conditions and Cancer – Regular physical activity lowers risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis and colon cancer, to name just a few. It also helps in the management of high cholesterol and arthritis pain.

Regular physical activity is also associated with decreased mortality and age-related morbidity in older adults. In addition, a study by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society examined exercise in the elderly and found that exercise training led to improvement in functional reach, balance and fear of falling.

Often, frail elderly people are unable to tolerate aerobic exercise routines on a regular basis due to lack of endurance. But while age-related changes in the cardiovascular system have significant effects on cardiac performance, it has been estimated that 50% of endurance loss can be related to decreased muscle mass.

The ideal exercise prescription for the elderly consists of three components: aerobic exercise, strength training, and balance and flexibility.

Cardio/Endurance Exercises

Physicians recommend 30 minutes of cardio respiratory endurance exercise each day for your elderly mom or dad. This means getting the heart rate up and breathing faster. Walking, cycling and swimming are all examples of cardio/endurance exercises. If the elderly person tires easily and for those just starting to exercise, it is OK to do three 10-minute periods of exercise.
Cardio respiratory endurance exercise increases the body's ability to deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissues and to remove waste over sustained periods of time. After exercising consistently for a few weeks, there will likely be an improvement in the person's ability to exercise and ability to perform everyday tasks without getting winded and out of breath.

Strength/Resistance Training

Strength training uses and strengthens muscles with repetitive motion exercises. Your elderly parent can do strength training with weights, resistance bands, nautilus machines or by using walls, the floor and furniture for resistance. Two to three strength/resistance training workouts a week will provide the greatest benefits. Exercise all muscle groups by doing 1 to 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions at moderate intensity. Progressively increase size of weights used during workouts.

Strength training helps prevent loss of bone mass and improves balance. Both of these things will help avoid falls and broken bones among seniors.

Stretching/Flexibility Exercises

Stretching is vital to exercise. Stretching helps muscles warm up and cool down gradually. Stretching improves and maintains flexibility, prevents injury, and reduces muscle soreness and stiffness.

Stretching can also be a time of meditation and a time to appreciate how the body feels. Activities like yoga or Pilates can provide a good form of stretching as well as strength training because they focus on isolating and developing different muscle groups. A number of exercise programs, like yoga and Pilates, focus on developing a strong ‘core,' a term which refers to the set of muscles connecting the inner stomach to the lower back and spine. Because the core muscles provide the foundation for all movement and strength, having a strong core can help with all movement, encourage better posture and reduce allover muscle pain.

Of course, there are some people whose physical abilities are limited by medical conditions or frailty in the elderly. These seniors have to go about exercise more carefully than others, but don't have to dismiss it entirely. With proper instruction and guidance, the elderly can learn activities and exercises that improve mobility and reduce frailty. Especially for those who are frail, it is particularly important to be careful, but to find a way to move the body, because regular exercise greatly reduces the risk of falling and broken bones. Try exercise in a class setting with proper supervision and definitely consider swimming or another form or water exercise as it can be less jarring to the body – the local YMCA or YWCA are good places to start when looking for exercise programs that address special needs.

1 comment:

  1. Dr. Miriam Nelson's book "Strong Women Stay Young" is based on a scientific study that confirmed that exercise does yield measurable benefits for women no matter how senior or unaccustomed to exercise. It is never too late.