Best exercise for older adults

Blog by: Suryakant Tripathi.

So, you’re 55, or maybe 65, 75, or even 85. You already know all the benefits of exercise, and you’ve tried — you have really tried — to be active. You take a daily walk once a week when it’s not raining, but you know that’s not really enough. Friends, relatives, and your doctor — they all say, “Get some exercise!”

So, a little while back, you tried a class. You tried several. Different instructors even. But there is one small problem: You hate it! A lot of exercise classes are far from ideal for older adults (even when they’re supposedly for older adults!).

What to do? Chances are, you’ve stopped going…or you will soon. You may not be able to say why you hate that class, but it’s likely that when you read through this list, you’ll see yourself at least once!

Reason #1: Exercise will extend years of active independent life

In health research, doctors attempt to quantify a quality-of-life measurement for an average individual.1

Through discussions with many patients of all ages, they rate on a scale of one-to-ten a person’s physical and mental well-being.

Using such a scale in an Oklahoma study, healthy older adults who participated regularly in moderate physical activity for at least an hour per week had a higher quality-of-life measurement than those who did not exercise.2

The exercisers felt that they led an independent lifestyle.

Take note: one hour per week! That’s not much commitment.

Reason #2: Exercise does not have to be hard, fast, and pounding to reap rewards

“No pain, no gain” is a myth! Don’t believe it! Today’s research is unequivocal: exercise is surprisingly efficient, even building muscle, and even moderate exercise does make a difference,. One study assessed two groups of older adults: one group participated in a low-intensity exercise program; the other group did only relaxation exercises. On all assessments, both physical and mental, the exercise group did better than the relaxation group.3

If you are concerned about the risks of starting exercise, you can begin at low intensity and gradually increase your skill level. Most studies suggest that classes for older adults should emphasize moderate-intensity aerobics, muscle-strengthening, balance, and flexibility, as well as instruction on how to avoid injury.45

Reason #3: You must use it or you will lose it

Sedentariness is unhealthy. If we aren’t active, we lose muscle strength — a minuscule amount each day. Stronger muscles mean we can lengthen independent living considerably. Simple free-weight exercises can improve the odds against muscle loss.

Researchers decided to measure just the hand-grip strength of women over 60. Some women were exercising; some were not. They discovered that non-exercising women lost grip strength at the rate of nearly 3% per year. But physically active women lost much less.6

If hand-grip strength can be improved and/or maintained by simply exercising, you can easily apply this principle to all the muscles. My husband’s grandmother decided, in her late 80’s, that she did not want to walk any more. Within weeks she was bedridden. If we do not use our muscles, they will weaken. It is inevitable.

Reason #4: Exercise may prevent a bad fall

Older adults fear falling. If they break a bone, they may be disabled, in pain, or both, for months. A fall means loss of independence.

More than 20% of participants in a recent study of older adults said they had fallen twice or more in the previous year. About one-third said it was likely they would fall during the upcoming year, yet most believed there wasn’t any way that they could prevent a fall. None of them had even heard of balance training!

Attempting to educate older adults to the advantages of physical activity in preventing falls, researchers explained to the participants of a study that the purpose of balance training was to do “physical activities every day to build up the strength in legs and body and improve balance.” Lead author of the research, Lucy Yardley, Ph.D., concluded this: “Few older people are aware of strength and balance training, or [know] that balance can be improved.”7

The ability to get up from a chair and sit down without assistance requires lower body strength, balance and coordination. Something as simple as a daily chair-stand exercise can improve balance.