The Importance of Physical Activity for Older Adults

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Benjamin Franklin is said to have made this remark when discussing the prevention of house fires. But this adage can also be applied to health. In almost all cases, it is better and easier to prevent disease than it is to treat disease once it develops. If you’re an older adult, disease prevention can take a fairly simple form: exercise.

Physical activity offers many health benefits for people of all ages. However, it is particularly important for older adults to focus on staying active. This doesn’t mean you need to run marathons or take up rollerblading, although some older adults certainly do enjoy those sports. Even moderate-intensity exercise – like walking – and strengthening exercises – like gardening – can help keep you healthy and strong as you age.

Benefits Of Physical Activity For Older Adults

It takes some motivation to begin exercising. But once you get into the habit of moving your body, you’re almost certain to find that you feel better. As time goes on, it will become easier and easier to head to the gym, go for your walk, or practice yoga. The sooner you start moving, the better. Here are some of the specific health benefits that come with exercising as an older adult.

Weight Management

People gain weight when they eat more calories than they burn. Often, older adults are less active in their daily lives than they were at a younger age. So, even if you eat the same amount as you did 10 years ago, you might notice the pounds starting to pile on. Increasing your level of physical activity will help reverse that.

Keeping your weight in a healthy range is important for your overall health. People who maintain a healthy weight are at a lower risk for diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and a long list of other ailments. Studies show that older adults who are overweight or obese spend up to 17% more on healthcare throughout their lifetime. In other words, keeping your weight under control through exercise can help keep you out of your doctor’s office!

Reduced Joint Pain

Osteoarthritis is quite common in older adults. The heavier you are, the more joint pain you are likely to experience due to arthritis. Exercise can help keep your weight under control, taking the burden off your joints. Exercise also strengthens the muscles around your arthritic joints, which can also help ease soreness and inflammation.

A Healthy Heart

Sadly, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Major risk factors for heart disease include obesity, diabetes, and physical inactivity. Physical activity can help prevent obesity and diabetes, so it truly is essential for the prevention of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. Some people are even able to get off statins and other cardiovascular medications when they adopt a more active lifestyle.

Fewer Falls

Falling may not be a major concern when you are in your 50s and 60s, but it will be when you’re in your 70s, 80s, and beyond. One wrong fall can result in a fractured hip or pelvis, which could limit your mobility for the rest of your life. The more physically active you remain as an older adult, the less likely you are to suffer a serious fall. Exercise helps you maintain your balance, muscle coordination, muscle strength, and flexibility. Maintain those functions, and you’ll have an easier time staying upright.

Cancer Prevention

Cancer is very complex, and in most cases, it is impossible to point to one specific action that caused someone to develop cancer. But the science on this is clear: physical activity reduces your chances of developing certain cancers. More specifically, people who exercise are less likely to develop cancer of the bladder, breasts, colon, lungs, stomach, or esophagus.

Some cancer risk factors, like heredity, can’t be modified. However, your level of physical activity is a modifiable risk factor that you have control over. Tell cancer who is in charge, and go for a walk!

Exercise Recommendations For Older Adults

By this point, we hope we’ve convinced you to be more active. But now, you’re probably wondering just how much exercise you should be aiming for. We recommend using the CDC guidelines as a starting point.

For adults ages 65 and older, the CDC recommends the following:

  • 150+ minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week OR 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week
  • Strengthening exercises at least twice a week
  • Activities that focus on balance

Moderate-intensity physical activity is equivalent to walking at a brisk pace. You could take a walk around the block with your dog, walk to the store instead of driving, or walk around the mall on a rainy day. To reach 150 minutes per week, you only need to walk for 30 minutes, five days per week. If you feel up to jogging instead, you only need to jog for 75 minutes per week. Jogging qualifies as a vigorous-intensity activity.

Maybe you’re not a walker or a jogger. That’s no reason to skip your exercise! Other moderate or intense physical activities suited for older adults include:

  • Dancing
  • Hiking
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Riding a bike
  • Swimming
  • Water aerobics
  • Yoga
  • Pilates

For the strength-training portion of your exercise routine, you could choose an activity with a lot of dynamic strengthening movements. Gardening, yoga, and working with resistance bands all count. Of course, if you’re feeling up to it, some weight training at the gym is excellent, too.

So, what about balance training? This is particularly useful when it comes to fall prevention. Ease your way into it in order to stay safe. Stand on one leg, practice walking backward, or spend some time on a wobble board. It is absolutely okay, and even recommended, to do these activities next to a wall or desk at first. This way, you have something to grab onto if you feel like you’re about to lose your balance. Spend a few minutes on balance activities a couple of days per week, and you’re golden.

You deserve to enjoy good health, even as you age. Staying physically active post-retirement is one of the best things you can do for your body and your mind. Exercise will strengthen your heart, reduce the burden on your joints, reduce your risk of cancer, and help you maintain a healthy body weight. Find some activities you enjoy, and ease your way into it. You’re not too old for newer, better habits!

If you’re an older adult who is struggling to lose weight, we can help. At You First Medical Asthetics, we help adults of all ages discover weight loss solutions that are compatible with their lifestyle, their goals, and their long-term health. We can even recommend a custom movement plan to aid in your success. Contact us to schedule a consultation with our friendly practitioners.