Exercise Helps Older Adults Stay Fit

People tend to exercise less as they grow older, but keeping physically active is essential for remaining healthy and independent, an expert says.

“Exercise is important for almost everyone. There are very few medical conditions that exercise won’t benefit. In fact, I sometimes write a prescription to get my patients to start taking this seriously and help them understand exercise can be just as helpful as medication,” Dr. Keith Veselik, director of primary care at Loyola University Health System, said in a Loyola news release.

Aging can present challenges to exercise, so Veselik offers suggestions on how to deal with certain issues.

Muscle and joint aches and pains start becoming more noticeable in your 50s, so you may need to try cardiovascular exercises that boost your heart rate but are easy on the joints. For example, try swimming or cycling instead of running. If you do run, invest in good shoes that cushion the impact.

Cardiovascular exercise helps prevent medical problems such as heart disease, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. But if you’ve been inactive, you need to talk to your doctor, ask about risk factors and create a cardiovascular exercise plan that’s right for you.

Back pain is another common problem among people in their 50s.

“The best way to protect your back is to build strong core muscles and make sure you are lifting heavy objects correctly,” Veselik advised.

There is a fountain of youth. Millions have discovered it - the secret to feeling better and living longer. It’s called staying active. Finding a program that works for you and sticking with it can pay big dividends. Regular exercise can prevent or delay diabetes and heart trouble. It can also reduce arthritis pain, anxiety and depression. It can help older people stay independent.

There are four main types of exercise and seniors need some of each:

- Endurance activities - like walking, swimming, or riding a bike - which build “staying power” and improve the health of the heart and circulatory system
- Strengthening exercises which build muscle tissue and reduce age-related muscle loss
- Stretching exercises to keep the body limber and flexible
- Balance exercises to reduce the chances of a fall

NIH: National Institute on Aging

Balance and leg-strengthening exercises should be emphasized as people enter their 60s, to increase flexibility and help prevent accidental falls. Weight-bearing exercises are critical to keep bones healthy and prevent osteoporosis.

Many adults in their 60s have symptoms of arthritis, which can make exercise difficult.

“Exercise has been proven to help people deal with their arthritis. It’s just making sure your exercise routine is working for you, not against you. Some people forget that walking is a great form of exercise - just make sure you get your heart rate up. Also, aquatic classes or swimming are a great way for people with arthritis or fibromyalgia to exercise,” Veselik said in the news release.

“The biggest worry I hear from my patients who are entering their 70s, 80s and beyond is dementia. The two most common forms are Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia,” he said.

And, he added, exercise may help prevent those conditions.

Exercise Myth: Trying to exercise and get healthy is pointless - decline in old age is inevitable.

“There’s a powerful myth that getting older means getting decrepit,” says Dutta. “It’s not true. Some people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s are out there running marathons and becoming body-builders.” A lot of the symptoms that we associate with old age - such as weakness and loss of balance - are actually symptoms of inactivity, not age, says Alicia I. Arbaje, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Geriatrics and Gerontology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Exercise improves more than your physical health. It can also boost memory and help prevent dementia. And it can help you maintain your independence and your way of life. If you stay strong and agile as you age, you’ll be more able to keep doing the things you enjoy and less likely to need help.

Exercise Myth: Exercise isn’t safe for someone my age - I don’t want to fall and break a hip.

In fact, studies show that exercise can reduce your chances of a fall, says Dutta. Exercise builds strength, balance, and agility. Exercises like tai chi may be especially helpful in improving balance. Worried about osteoporosis and weak bones? One of the best ways to strengthen them is with regular exercise.

Exercise Myth: Since I’m older, I need to check with my doctor before I exercise.

If you have a medical condition or any unexplained symptoms or you haven’t had a physical in a long time, check with your doctor before you start exercising. Otherwise, go ahead. “People don’t need to check with a doctor before they exercise just because they’re older,” says Dutta. Just go slowly and don’t overdo it.

Exercise Myth: I’m sick, so I shouldn’t exercise.

On the contrary, if you have a chronic health problem - such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease - exercise is almost certainly a good idea. Check with a doctor first, but exercise will probably help.

“Exercise is important, but it’s not the end all. It needs to be coupled with eating right and incorporating other healthy habits to lead to a better quality of life,” Veselik concluded.



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