The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released its latest findings addressing healthy exercise guidelines for older adults. The overall conclusion is that all aging adults should include aerobic and muscle strengthening exercises as well as add balance training. The authors of the study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) state “All three aspects are important for this population because older adults are at an increased risk of falls, and strength and balance are needed to prevent falls.” Physically active adults are better able to engage in activities of daily living and have improved physical function.
The good news is, even if you have never exercised before, you can get benefits from beginning today. Determine your level of fitness and talk to your doctor before beginning any program. To exercise safely, adults with chronic conditions may require exercise modifications either in physical technique or time allotment. Even with a chronic condition older adults should be as physically active as their circumstances allow. The goal is not to outlive your muscles.
General recommendations include all adults get a minimum of 150 to 300 minutes of moderate or 75 – 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity weekly. Two or more days of the week should include muscle strength training. Balance exercises can be natural daily incorporation in your routine with multicomponent physical activities such as dance, certain sports, or yoga. Additional balance (and brain!) training can be achieved by walking backward.
While some of these exercise routines may require a treadmill or weight training equipment, there are ways to add more motion to your daily routine by swapping sedentary behavior with light or moderate intensity physical activity. Many household tasks like vacuuming, dusting, laundry, and gardening are excellent ways to keep you moving, and the work effort provides a more restful, clean environment for when you are ready to sit down and relax.
Aerobic activity is large muscle movement for a sustained period and it improves cardiorespiratory fitness. Many adults know it as endurance or cardio training. Good examples of aerobic exercise include bicycling, jumping rope, running, or brisk walking. All of these, except for bicycling, is bone strengthening activity because the force exerted on your bones helps promote bone growth and strength. If you can’t exercise outdoors gym memberships are often available through your insurance company for free or at a reduced rate and are good places to exercise both for safety and social connection with others.
The gym is also an excellent place for muscle strengthening activity to increase skeletal muscle strength, power, endurance, and mass. If you are not actively working to strengthen your muscles, they will atrophy with age. Weight lifting or resistance training helps keep your muscles healthy. Proper form and familiarity with the gym equipment is a necessity so be sure to get proper training and oversight especially when you are beginning a muscle-strengthening program.
Balance activity is designed to improve your ability to resist forces within or outside of the body that can cause a person to fall while stationary or moving. Lunges are a straightforward technique that helps your balance. Walking backward is an excellent balance activity but must be approached slowly. There are great mental benefits from learning how to walk backward as well as physical ones. Benefits include enhanced sense of body awareness, better body coordination, sharpened thinking skills, and cognitive control enhancement. However, be sure to consult with the gym personnel before engaging in backward treadmill walking.
Multicomponent physical activity is also excellent for improved balance. These activities include certain sports and dance, but one of the best overall is yoga which challenges your static balance as you stand in position and hold without swaying as well as dynamic balance which is the ability to anticipate and react to changes as you move. Yoga is also meditative and is very good for your brain and your ability to calm and center yourself. You can find yoga DVDs available to do at home or a friend’s house. Yoga is an excellent multi-component physical activity for men and women.
The benefits that can be achieved by following this three-pronged approach for exercise cannot be overstated. Overall it will lower all-cause mortality including lower cardiovascular disease and its associated mortality, lower risk of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and an adverse blood lipid (fat) profile. It can also lower risks of some cancers like bladder, breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, lung and stomach. In conjunction with one another these three exercise activities improve cognition and quality of life, reduce anxiety and the risk of depression as well as reduce the risk of dementia (including Alzheimer’s). Exercise will improve your sleep and can help reduce weight gain. These three exercise activities will improve your bone health, physical function, and lower the risk of falls and fall-related injuries.
Proper exercise is one of the components to aging successfully, as noted in the Department of Health and Human Services report. Group exercise can also be a great way to socialize with others and reduce feelings of isolation.
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