Last Updated on 2 July 2022 by Ray Plumlee
The importance of exercise doesn’t only reserve for youngsters and adults; it is equally important for the elderly too. Older adults who are more into physical activity and exercise find fewer health issues in them; they have better overall health, there are fewer immobility issues in them, and they have less health-related expenditure. Sadly, many older adults don’t know how valuable these activities can be. Many of them aren’t aware of the overall recommended activity plan for exercises like aerobic conditioning, muscle strengthening, flexibility, and balance training.
In this article, we will be covering the art of engaging older adults in physical activity and exercise and what benefits and the outcome it would bring.
What Benefits It Brings:
The benefits of physical activity are multiple in every one of us, however, in older adults, the idea of physical activity is to ensure decreased mortality rate, healthy physical and cognitive functioning with normal aging. The main focus of physical activity is to enhance strength, flexibility, mobility, and fitness, all of which correlate with:
- Improved daily functioning
- Enhanced independence
- Reduced risk of falls and fall-related injury
Moreover, exercise induces socializing and reduces mental issues, lessens the natural decline of aerobic capacity with age, muscle mass, strength, and the damaging effects of this phenomenon. Muscle loss is natural in older adults, but adopting physical activity can slow it down. Even aerobic activities can improve neuropsychiatric symptoms and cognition in patients with dementia.
In short, exercise and physical activity have got some potential even when it comes to older adults. So, it’s better to start now than never.
Overview of Some Physical Activity Plan:
Healthcare providers are advised to recommend exercises that fall in any of the following four categories:
- Aerobic exercise
- Muscle strengthening
Aerobic exercise focuses on the large muscle groups to strengthen and support organs like the heart and lungs so that the individual may get an improved utilization of oxygen. The exercises included in this category are; brisk walking, jogging, swimming, water aerobics, tennis, golf but with no cart, aerobic exercise classes, dancing, bicycle riding, cardio equipment like elliptical machines, stair climbing machines, stationary bicycles, and treadmills
Guidelines that should be followed prior to initiating aerobic exercise in older adults are:
- Activities do not necessarily be confined to one time but can be divided across the day.
- If an intensive exercise plan cannot be achieved in an individual with chronic medical conditions, the better approach is to use exercises, like short walks. These exercises should not harm individuals.
Muscle-strengthening comes in different activities like weight training, weight-bearing calisthenics, or resistance training. These activities progressively increase muscle strength and endurance – all that is required is a gradual increase in resistance with time.
However, there is some limitation when it comes to frail people because they cannot endure all the hard activities. The best approach is to adopt light exercises that a person can easily perform, like getting up from a chair, climbing stairs. The guidelines for frail adults, when muscle strengthening is recommended, are as follows:
- The weight should be maintained initially that a person can lift it for eight times without muscle fatigue. After that, maintain it up to the level of 10 to 15 times of lifting. Then again increase the weight such that a person can lift it for eight times. This gradual approach can bring positive results. The weight has to be decreased if a person fails to lift it eight times at first.
- Normal breathing is required while weight lifting, that is, exhaling when lifting or pulling elastic band.
- The movement mustn’t be hurried, slow movement with repetition is necessary. Two to three seconds for lifting, one second to hold, and three to four seconds for coming down again.
- Joints mustn’t be tightened or locked.
- Patients must be told to have muscle soreness at first that is normal and lasts for a few weeks.
- For chronic pain, such activities should be recommended that shouldn’t worsen the pain. In this case, a more gradual increase in muscle strengthening is required.
- Patients can also perform it at home using exercise equipment or homemade weights like soup cans, water bottles, or empty milk jugs having water or sand.
Flexibility is one of the best training to maintain good physical health and to perform daily chores easily. It includes shoulder and upper arm stretches, calf stretches, and yoga.
Guidelines for flexibility training in older adults are:
- Plan flexibility training two times a week for 10 minutes.
- Stretching is effective when done after aerobic or strengthening activities as the body is warmed.
- Breathing should be normal during stretching exercises.
- There should be no bouncing in stretching.
- Stretching should be slowly and gradually. It is advised to hold the desired position for 10 to 30 seconds.
- A slight pull during stretching is normal but should not be on the verge of pain.
Balance training is designed for people having a history of falling and immobility. It works by providing stability to avoid falls and fall-related injuries. Different researches have proved tai chi as the best training for improving balance and risk of falls.
Moreover, it targets gait patterns like heel-to-toe walking, basic movements using the center of gravity, and focusing on the sensory systems for maintaining balance.
When the patient is at risk for falls, starting physical therapy would help improve strength and balance.
In short, enhancing physical activities in older adults with the help of different exercises may prove to be effective in maintaining strength and balance so that they may continue a healthy living. All that is required is to understand the underlying medical condition of the elderly and then plan accordingly.
I am chief medical resident doctor in Internal Medicine at a tertiary care hospital. I am also an author and editor at StatPearls publishing, a medical website with thousands of PubMed indexed articles and MCQs.