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 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 including improvements in blood pressure, diabetes, lipid profile, 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. Consult you doctor before beginning any type of exercise.