Benefits Of Physical Activity For The Elderly

By:    Published: August 8, 2012

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Elderly individuals have to take special precautions when it comes to getting exercise. However, the benefits of getting physical activity at this age far outweigh the possible risks. In this article, we’ll explore the many benefits of physical activity for the elderly, and any special precautions that need to be taken.

Physical Benefits

Perhaps the most important reason to stay physically active as an elderly individual is to improve or maintain your overall health. It doesn’t matter if the person has been active before or is just starting to exercise more. In fact, it’s never too late to start getting more physically active, especially since older Americans tend to experience greater physical benefits than younger people by becoming more active.

The following are some of the key physical benefits of physical activity for elderly individuals:

  • Management of health conditions: Many health conditions, including high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and diabetes, can be better managed when an elderly person is physically active.
  • Reduced risk of chronic disease: When an elderly individual exercises regularly, it reduces the risk of developing a chronic disease, such as heart disease, obesity, colon cancer, etc.
  • Weight management: Obesity and being overweight are common health threats among the elderly. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), 58 percent of Americans ages 65 and older were either obese or overweight in 2000. Staying physically active decreases the risk of becoming overweight or obese and can help those with weight issues to get to a healthy weight.
  • Better function in arthritis patients: Many elderly people suffer from some arthritis, and staying physically active can help to improve their overall joint function.
  • Injury prevention: Elderly individuals who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer injuries as a result of falls or other accidents.

Psychological Benefits

One of the added benefits of being physically active at an older age is the fact that it promotes overall psychological well-being. This is one aspect of exercise at an older age that many people overlook. The key reason for this is that it helps to improve an older individual’s independence, which can greatly improve their mood, outlook and self-esteem. Those who exercise regularly at this age are more likely to remain independent and overcome health issues.

Similarly, regularly physical activity for elderly individuals has been linked to reduced feelings of depression and anxiety. As a person increases the amount of exercise they get, they are less likely to suffer from these psychological challenges.

Social Benefits

Many elderly individuals who aren’t physically active end up spending much of their time at home alone. This can have a negative impact on their health since it may lead to decreased mental stimulation. Elderly people who stay physically active often have a healthier social life that involves regular interaction with others and mental stimulation. In addition, an important positive side effect of staying active as an older adult is that it can lead to a significant reduction in health care costs.

Best Physical Activities For The Elderly

There are lots of exercise options for elderly individuals who want to be physically active. It’s important to take individual health concerns into consideration when choosing an exercise strategy for an older person. For example, someone with arthritis should find low-impact exercises that can benefit their health in order to put less pressure on their joints.

The following are some of the best types of physical activity for elderly individuals:

  • Tai chi: This ancient martial art has been lauded as one of the best exercises for the elderly since it involves focus on both the mind and the body. It is great for muscle coordination and mental clarity.
  • Balance exercises: Any exercise which incorporates balance, such as dance, cycling or tai chi, is excellent for elderly individuals since it helps to reduce the risk of falls.
  • Cardio: Light- to moderate-intensity cardio workouts like brisk walking, cycling, swimming or cross-country skiing are great for improving heart health.
  • Low-impact exercises: Incorporating low-impact exercises reduces pressure on the joints. Examples include swimming, water aerobics or using an elliptical machine.
  • Physical activity: Elderly individuals can also incorporate regular physical activity in addition to exercise. Things like gardening, walking the dog and raking the yard are all helpful for keeping elderly individuals active.

Precautions

Elderly individuals should do the following to ensure that their physical activities are safe and that they don’t cause further health problems or increase the risk of injury:

  • Talk to your doctor about what exercise is best for you.
  • Start out slowly if you’re not used to physical activity, and slowly increase the intensity and length of your exercise.
  • Wait at least 2 hours after eating a large meal to start exercising.
  • Wear appropriate shoes for the activity. Make sure they are comfortable and provide adequate support.
  • Warm up with low-intensity activity and some light stretching before exercising.
  • Stop immediately if you feel faint, dizzy, get muscle cramps, break out in a cold sweat or feel severe pain in any part of your body. If these symptoms don’t subside, get medical attention.

Keep in mind that for elderly individuals, physical activity doesn’t have to involve an intense workout in order to get the health benefits listed above. In fact, older individuals only need to get a moderate amount of activity (such as 30 minutes of brisk walking) five times a week to improve their overall health, with longer or more vigorous exercise providing additional health benefits.

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