Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
Physical Activity Recommendations for the Older Adult
Kristi Schneider, PT, DPT, GCS
Click here to watch the WZZM13 Senior Wellness segment on this topic.
As our bodies age, changes occur that impact our physical function.
General effects of aging include: loss of tissue elasticity, mineral loss in bones and loss of muscle mass (approximately 1% a year over the age of 60 years). Normal age related changes along with a sedentary lifestyle can lead to an increase risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and cognitive decline. In the absence of regular physical activity, the aging body becomes stiffer, weaker and more prone to injury.
Exercise is an excellent tool for the aging adult to help optimize physical health and maintain daily function.
Reported benefits of exercise include: optimal flexibility and posture; improved endurance; improved balance; reduced risk of falls; improved attention, concentration & memory; reduced depression & anxiety, and improved quality of sleep.
For years, research has supported that exercise improves muscle strength, flexibility, bone density and cardiovascular health, making our bodies healthier. Current research indicates that exercise also improves cognitive function, making our brains healthier too. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, increases the expression of growth factors that support cell communication, improves brain cell metabolism, and reduces the harmful effects of inflammation on brain function. When an older adult participates in a new movement skill or exercise, both the brain and muscles learn the movement. This process improves mobility and cognitive performance.
There is not one best exercise for the older adult. Optimal fitness incorporates a variety of training that targets flexibility, strength, aerobic and balance performance.
Flexibility targets tissue elasticity, optimizes joint range of motion and minimizes stiffness. Flexibility allows for optimal posture and enhanced balance performance.
- The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend the older adult perform stretching for a minimum of 10 minutes 3-4x week.
- Flexibility is achieved through stretching, targeting key body areas: the chest wall, the shoulders & elbows, the back of the thighs and knees, calves, the front of the wrists and palms, and the low back & neck.
Aerobic exercise works the heart and lungs, helps the body burn calories and improves endurance.
- The ACSM and the AHA recommend the older adult perform 150 minutes of moderately paced aerobic exercise a week. A popular guideline is 30 minutes a day, 5x week. It is important to note that 30 minutes of aerobic activity does not have to be consecutive to be effective. Sessions of aerobic activity in 10-15 minute increments spaced throughout the course of a day are also effective.
- Examples of aerobic physical activity include brisk walking, swimming, dancing, water aerobics, chair aerobics and biking.
Strengthening muscles helps maintain functional ability and independence.
- The ACSM and the AHA recommend the older adult perform strength training 2-3x week, allowing muscle groups a day of rest between sessions.
- Strengthening exercise is resistance training with weights, bands, body weight or machines. Stair climbing and performing sit to stands are functional strengthening tools. Muscle groups to target include: the core (abdominals/back), the thighs, the buttocks, and the back of the arms.
Balance and coordination training involves targeting the postural control and sensory systems.
- The ACSM recommends the older adult participate in balance training 2-3 x week.
- It includes activities such as shifting weight from 2 legs to 1 leg, challenging the body’s base of support, performing dynamic movements that perturb the body’s center of gravity, and challenging sensory input including vision and surface input by standing on various surfaces ranging from firm to soft.
Embarking on a new fitness routine or simply increasing physical activity level can be an exciting and rewarding endeavor. Here are some basic tips to consider:
- Consult with your physician or physical therapist for special health considerations as you begin any new fitness routine.
- Find an exercise program or physical activity that is fun, accessible and sustainable. Establishing fitness as part of an ongoing daily routine is the key to optimal health benefits.
- Try to incorporate physical activity into your daily schedule. For example, stretch regularly after sitting, march in place while standing to brush your teeth or wash dishes, or stand up & sit down a few times each hour.
- Challenge yourself to try something new and seek a variety of exercise. Learning new movement pattern is great for your body and your brain.
- Check out offerings at local community centers and gyms. West Michigan has many resources available for walking clubs and group exercise classes designed for the older adult. There are great opportunities to improve strength, flexibility, balance and aerobic capacity through yoga, tai chi, dancing, boxing, cycling, aquatic classes and much, much more.
- To compliment your fitness routine, eat healthy and stay hydrated.
The PACE® (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) is a nationwide program with sites in many states. Each PACE location has its own name; ours is called LifeCircles. To learn more about LifeCircles–PACE, A Porter Hills Partnership visit our website.
Chodzko-Zajko, W. et al. Exercise and Physical Activity for Older Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2009; 41 (7)1510-1530.
Cianci, H. et al. Parkinson’s Disease: Fitness Counts. National Parkinson’s Foundation. 2016.