Physical activity and exercise are key contributors to lifelong independence and wellbeing in the older population. Many adults aged 65 and over spend, on average, 10 hours or more each day sitting or lying down, making them the most sedentary age group.
Frailty and loss in strength, flexibility and mobility, commonly associated with ageing, are often due to physical inactivity rather than the actual ageing process.
Many older people believe that exercise is no longer appropriate. Some of the common misconceptions that affect participation in physical activity include:
- Older people are frail and physically weak.
- The body doesn’t need as much physical activity as it ages.
- Exercising is hazardous for older people because they may injure themselves.
- Only vigorous and sustained exercise is of any use.
Other factors that may contribute to the lack of physical exercise among the older populations include:
- Some older people may have a preference for sedentary activities, such as reading and socialising.
- The relatively high cost of some sports may exclude some people.
- Many sports and activities tend to attract young adults, so older people may feel unwelcome.
- The fitness marketplace has failed to include and attract older people.
There is strong evidence to suggest that compared to less active men and women, older adults who are physically active have lower rates of all-cause mortality, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, colon cancer and breast cancer, and they have a higher level of cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, and healthier body mass and composition.
More active individuals exhibit higher levels of functional health, have a lower risk of falling, and have better cognitive function which all contributes to a reduced risk of functional limitations.
If you want to stay pain free, reduce your risk of mental illness, and be able to go out and stay independent well into old age, then the advice is to keep moving.
In adults aged 65 years and above, physical activity can include leisure activities (e.g. walking, dancing, gardening, hiking, swimming), transportation (e.g. walking, cycling), occupational (if the individual is still engaged in work), household chores, play, games, sports and planned exercise.
The world health organisation (WHO) indicates that older adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity every week.
Ideally, you should try to do something every day, preferably in bouts of 10 minutes of activity or more. One way of achieving 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity is to do 30 minutes at least five days a week.
Examples of moderate-intensity activities include:
- walking fast
- water aerobics
- riding a bike on level ground or with few hills
- playing doubles tennis
- pushing a lawn mower or gardening
Daily chores like shopping, cooking, or housework don't count towards your 150 minutes because the effort isn't hard enough to raise your heart rate, although they do help break up sedentary time.
Research shows it's never too late to adopt and reap the health benefits from a more active lifestyle. What you do will depend on your own circumstances, but as a guiding principle, it's a good idea to do activities that you enjoy.
As well as regular physical activity, try to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting down during the day. This means avoiding long periods of TV viewing, computer use, driving, and sitting to read, talk, or listen to music.
If you are unsure about where to start with exercise or activity levels then speak to your GP or contact one of the expert physios at The Physiotherapy Place to chat about where to get started.
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