Exercise for Older Adults

Until recently, physiologists thought that the deterioration of the body with the years was inevitable, and that ageing naturally involved a gradual loss of heart and lung function, muscle power, bone density, tissue elasticity and immunity. It is true that the body functions less well as we age, but we now know that much of this decline is due to the fact that most older people have stopped using their bodies and have simply seized up.

Age and Appropriate Type of Exercise

exercise for older adultsA variety of sports and activities can provide a means of exercise that suits an individual’s physical development over the years as well as her interests and responsibilities at every stage of life.

The 20s

High-intensity aerobic exercise for at least 20 minutes 3-5 times per week, plus 1-2 weight sessions per week; women should choose weight-bearing activities such as running and walking.

The 30s 

Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for 30 minutes 3-5 times per week, plus 2-3 weight-training sessions per week; reduce high-impact activities such as jumping and jogging; increase stretching exercises such as Yoga.

The 40s and 50s

Low-intensity aerobic exercise such as slow jogging for up to 40 minutes 3-5 times per week; increase strength training; ten minutes of stretching daily.

The 60s and over

Brisk walking, swimming or any rhythmic activity for 50 minutes 3-5 times per week; strength training twice a week; regular stretching exercises.

Vary Your Activities

An individual should incorporate a variety of activities into his exercise programme in order to achieve the greatest all-round benefits. Stretching is essential both before and after an exercise session to improve flexibility and prevent muscle soreness. Weight training increases muscle strength and stamina and also raises the metabolic rate, thereby helping to control weight gain. Weight-bearing exercise, such as skipping, helps to build and maintain bone density as well as burn calories.

Benefits of Exercising throughout Adulthood

Adults should maintain a regular programme of exercise throughout their lives. This can help to:

• Increase aerobic capacity, metabolic rate and stamina.

• Build bone mass and slow the rate of bone loss.

• Control weight and reduce cholesterol.

• Strengthen muscles and ligaments.

• Promote flexibility, suppleness and good posture.

• Prevent the onset of diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and other illnesses.

• Improve the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain, which enhances mental functions such as problem-solving and has a beneficial effect on the nervous system.

• Increase energy and vitality.

• Maintain a positive outlook.

Activities and Physical Exercise As You Age

An adventure sport such as snowboarding demands stamina. It builds muscle strength and, because it is a weight-bearing activity, also helps to build bone density. It can, however, be jarring to the joints and ligaments, and a good training and stretching regimen is important. Snow-boarding also develops skills such as balance, coordination, agility and physical reaction time.

Windsurfing is an adventure sport that is often taken up in a person’s teens or 20s and can be practised well into middle age. Both leg strength and upper body strength are required, so a fitness programme that includes strength-training exercises, such as weight sessions, is essential. Windsurfing is not an aerobic exercise but it has other benefits, which include the improvement of balance and agility. It is a popular sport for holidays at home or abroad.

exercise for older adults 2Kayaking is another adventure sport that can be practised by people well into late middle age. Its primary benefit is the building of upper body strength, and it also develops good coordination, balance, precision and tactical thinking. Long-distance kayaking can also provide aerobic exercise.

Cycling is an excellent means of combining aerobic exercise with the need for everyday transportation. It also promotes good balance and builds muscle strength in the legs. Cycling is not a weight-bearing exercise, however, so women in particular should incorporate other activities such as walking or running into their weekly programme to help build bone.

Jogging is a good all-round exercise that has many benefits. As an aerobic exercise it keeps the metabolic rate high and is an effective tool for weight control. As a weight-bearing exercise it helps maintain bone density. It also builds strength in the legs. Jogging can place stress on the joints and some people find it necessary to reduce the intensity as they get older, perhaps substituting it with brisk walking instead.

Tennis is a competitive sport that can be enjoyed throughout life; it can be played with a partner or in doubles. It builds strength in the legs and in the racket arm and, because it is a weight-bearing exercise, it also helps to build bone and prevent bone loss. Tennis improves balance, speed and precision. It helps develop quick reflexes and good hand-eye coordination, and it promotes tactical thinking. A brisk game of tennis can also provide some aerobic benefits.

stretching sessions and meditationIn middle age, daily stretching sessions are important to maintain and improve flexibility. Some individuals may enjoy ending such a session with a period of meditation to promote relaxation and enhance wellbeing.

Hiking provides an opportunity to enjoy nature while achieving a range of exercise benefits. It can firm and strengthen leg muscles and is a weight-bearing activity that helps to minimize the loss of bone that occurs in the later years of life. Brisk or uphill hiking can also provide low-impact aerobic exercise.

Many everyday activities around the home, such as gardening, cleaning the house or walking up stairs, provide a moderate level of exercise. As people get older, they may find that stiffness of muscles and joints, a tower maximum heart rate and other factors of ageing reduce their capacity for intense sports and exercise. Combining everyday tasks with some form of light rhythmic exercise every week can help to maintain fitness.