Exercise and Older Adults
Why is it important to keep older adults active?
Most older adults are not getting enough physical activity. The combination of a lack of physical activity and a poor diet is major underlying cause of death in the United States. Exercise can help older adults feel better and enjoy life more, even if they think they are too old or too out of shape. Regular exercise is important because it can improve some diseases and disabilities in older people who already have them. It can also improve a person’s mood and relieve depression. If a person stays physically active on a regular, permanent basis it can help prevent or delay certain diseases and disabilities as people grow older.
What types of physical activity should you encourage an older adult to participate in?
Physical activity should be a part of every day life. For those who are just beginning an exercise routine, they should get at least 30 minutes of activity, that makes them breath harder, each day if possible. This should build stamina. If all 30 minutes cannot be completed at one time, then suggest that the older adult does10 minute sessions three times a day. It is also important that muscles are being used regularly. People lose 20-40 percent of their muscles and their strength as they age. Muscle loss is caused by the lack of using muscles in everyday activities. This is true for people of all ages. Some examples of activities that help build muscles are walking uphill or raking leaves. It is important for older adults to keep their muscles in shape, because it can help prevent falls that cause broken hips and other disabilities. Not only does the exercise build muscle but it also makes bones stronger. Activities should also be done to improve balance, such as standing on one foot or walking heel to toe. Stretching is another important aspect of exercising. It keeps the body limber.
In what circumstances should an older adult’s physician be contacted?
A physician should be contacted before increasing physical activity, if any of the following apply:
- a chronic disease, or a high risk of getting one — for example, if you smoke, if you are obese, or if you have a family history of a chronic disease any new, undiagnosed symptom chest pain
- shortness of breath
- the feeling that your heart is skipping, racing, or fluttering
- blood clots
- infections or fever
- undiagnosed weight loss
- foot or ankle sores that won’t heal
- joint swelling
- pain or an irregular walking gait after you’ve fallen
- a bleeding or detached retina, eye surgery or laser treatment
- a hernia
- hip surgery
How can you encourage safe physical activity?
Listed are some tips on how to ensure safety when exercising:
- Be sure the older adult takes it slow. Doing too much, too soon can result in an injury especially for someone who has been inactive.
- Medications can change their heart rate. If they are taking any medications they should not use their heart rate as a measurement for exercise amount.
- Make sure they are not holding their breath when straining. Exhale during exertion and inhale during relaxation is the proper technique.
- Safety equipment should be used such as: helmets, knee and elbow pads, and eye protection.
- While engaging in activities that make the older adult sweat make sure that they are taking in plenty of fluids, unless advise otherwise by a physician. Many older adults tend to be low on fluids even when not exercising.
- The older adult should bend from the hips and not from the waist when bending forward. Make sure they are keeping their back straight.
- Make sure the older adult does warm up muscle exercises before beginning any heavy exercising.
- Any exercise should not make the older adult feel pain or very tired. They may feel some soreness or a little tired, but exercise should not make them feel worse.
For More Information
Contact the Caregiver Assistance Service (CAS) at 215-545-5728 or 800-356-3606 for more information, and be sure to mention you are from EPA. CAS is a division of CARIE, the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly. CARIE is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping older people and those who care for them. CAS is a free, confidential consultation and referral service offered by your employer.