To reach and maintaina good quality of life, physical activity is extremely important in every age, even after 65. Regular physical activity may slow or even reverse the effects of aging on muscles.
With aging the endurance and muscle power of the body slowly decreases and some movement ranges may become limited. Furthermore, problems in balance and coordination may appear causing instability in walking and increased risk of accidental falls and bone fractures. These symptoms often become worse with other, parallelly occurring diseases, as the elderly tend to have more than one of them. Regular physical activity may slow or even reverse the effects of aging in some cases.
Benefits of physical activity for older people
Physical activity has several advantages not only for the young, but for older adults as well. Those who regularly exercise and lead an active life will feel better not only physically but mentally, too.
- has a positive effect on metabolism;
- helps to control weight and lipid levels (cholesterol and triglyceride) in blood;
- improves carbohydrate metabolism, increases insulin sensitivity of the cells and decreases the risk of diabetes;
- decreases the risk of heart diseases, stroke and several types of cancer;
- helps to control the blood pressure, lowers high blood pressure;
- helps maintain or even increases the movement range of joints;
- improves lung capacity;
- helps to reduce the risk of injuries from falls;
- slows down the course of osteoporosis;
- by strengthening muscles, decreases the load on bones and joints;
- improves quality of life;
- strengthen self-confidence and self-esteem;
- helps to maintain an independent life;
- decreases the probability of anxiety and depression.
The extent of physical activity for older adults
It is recommended for adults of 65 years or older to remain physically active, and adapt the exercise level to their physical conditions, fitness level and diseases. Optimally some kind of exercise is recommended every day.
The recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO) for older adults is the same as those for adults: at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity per week or the combination of those.
Twice a week a moderate-intensity muscle strengthening activity that work all the major muscle groups is recommended as well. Balance training exercises are also beneficial to prevent falls.
Low-intensity physical activities include:
- getting out of bed and making tea;
- moving around at home;
- walking in slow pace;
- making the bed;
- standing even whilst watching television.
Moderate-intensity physical activities include:
- fast walking;
- water aerobics;
- cycling (on plain road and smaller slopes);
- mowing the lawn;
- dancing, etc.
During the activity the heart rate should raise, and sweating should occur. Everyday activities (shopping, cooking, housekeeping) are not supposed to be counted within the daily minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-intensity training. These activities normally do not elevate the heart rate. To minimize the time spent being motionless, (watching television, reading, or listening to music) is of great importance.
Vigorous-intensity physical activities include:
- fast cycling or cycling on higher slopes;
- playing football;
- jumping rope.
High-intensity physical activity means that the respiratory and the heart rate increase to a level, where it is difficult to speak. Older adults should choose these activities with precautions, following the rules, based on their own status.
Muscle strengthening activities include:
- training with a rubber band;
- lifting weights;
- body-weight trainings (e.g. push-ups, crunches);
- Tai Chi;
- gardening (e.g. digging, shoveling).
When you use weights, rubber bands or your own body-weight, aim to repeat every exercise 8-12 times. To repeat these sets two or three times has even more health advantages.
When to see a doctor?
In most cases there is no need to see your doctor before starting any regular training programme. If you have any known risk factors or illnesses, consult your doctor about the most suitable training program according to your condition.
Common problems are high blood pressure (hypertension), chronic heart problems, chronic kidney diseases, obesity, high blood lipid levels and diabetes.
In case you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or feel like fainting/lightheaded during exercise, stop training immediately and visit your general practitioner!