Physical Activity in Older Americans

Updated:Aug 17,2015

senior manIn a 2010 CDC study, more than 30% of adults aged 65 or older report no leisure-time physical activity. But even older people need regular exercise.

The Benefits:

  • It can help prevent bone loss (reducing the risk of fractures) and reduces the risk of many diseases associated with aging.
  • It increases muscle strength and may improve balance and coordination, which can reduce the likelihood of falling. It also increases the ability for basic living, making it easier to carry grocery bags, get up from a chair and take care of household chores. Being physically active is a real key in maintaining quality of life and independence.
  • Elderly men with high blood pressure can lower their risk of death with even moderate levels of fitness compared to those who were less fit.
  • Studies have shown that increased levels of physical activity are associated with a reduced incidence of coronary heart disease, hypertension, non-insulin-dependent type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, depression and anxiety.
  • Active people with high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes or other chronic diseases are less likely to die prematurely than inactive people with these conditions.
  • Fitness can have a positive impact on health regardless of age or the presence of chronic illness.

Exercise Tips:

  • Older adults can work with their health care provider to develop an activity plan to consider chronic conditions, activity limitations, and reducing risk of falls. Fitness professionals can also be a good resource for recommendations on physical activity and injury prevention for healthy, asymptomatic older adults.
  • Focus more on increasing moderate activity and give less emphasis to attaining high levels of activity which can has a risk of injury and lower adherence. Pick activities you enjoy and exercise at an intensity appropriate for you.

    You may find that you can gradually increase your physical activity over time.
  • Pick activities that are fun, suit your needs and that you can do year-round.
  • Wear comfortable clothing and footwear appropriate for the temperature, humidity and activity.
  • If you decide that walking is a great activity for you, choose a place that has a smooth, soft surface; that does not intersect with traffic; and that's well-lighted and safe. Many people walk at area shopping malls.
  • Find a companion to exercise with you if it will help you stay on a regular schedule and add to your enjoyment.
  • Because muscular adaptation and elasticity generally slows with age, take more time to warm up and cool down while exercising. Make sure you stretch slowly.
  • Start exercising at a low intensity (especially if you've been mostly sedentary), and progress gradually.
  • If you plan to be active more than 30 minutes, then stay hydrated by trying to drink some water every 15 minutes, especially when exercising in hot, humid conditions.

    As you age, your sense of thirst tends to decrease and you may not be able to completely rely on your internal sense of thirst.

Learn more:

Last reviewed 1/2015

Physical Activity

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