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Exercise & Fitness for Senior Citizens

Seniors Who Exercise Most Suffer Least Physical Decline But Still Fall Short of Guidelines

More muscle-strengthening exercises should be encouraged among older adults in retirement communities – See Exercise Guidelines for Seniors below

June 11, 2014 – Seniors age 65 and older living in retirement communities who reported the most exercise had less physical decline than those who did less. This is another in a steady stream of research confirming the health benefits of exercise for senior citizens although research also shows most in this older age group remain inactive and fail to meet the recommended physical activity guidelines. And, even the active elderly are avoiding the badly needed strength training.

“Physical decline is natural in this age group, but we found that people who exercised more declined less,” said Lorraine Phillips, an associate professor in the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing.

 

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Most previous studies have not represented elders living in retirement communities, who may have more access to recreational activities and exercise equipment, according to Phillips.

The researchers at the University of Missouri found also that many older adults in retirement communities - even those who exercised - did not complete muscle-strengthening exercises, which are another defense against physical decline.

 “The most popular physical activities the residents of the retirement community reported doing were light housework and walking, both of which are easily integrated into individuals’ daily lives, but these exercises are not the best choices for maintaining muscle strength,” said Phillips.

She and her colleagues studied the physical activity of 38 residents at Tiger Place, an independent-living community in Columbia, four times in one year. The researchers tested the residents’ walking speed, balance and their ability to stand up after sitting in a chair. Then, researchers compared the results of the tests to the residents’ self-reported participation in exercise.

Phillips found that residents who reported doing more exercise had more success maintaining their physical abilities over time.

Phillips says the national recommendations for exercise include muscle strengthening exercises, such as knee extensions and bicep curls. Most of the study participants did not report completing these types of activities despite daily opportunities for recreational activities and access to exercise equipment.

Muscle strength, Phillips says, is important to individuals of this age group in order for them to maintain their ability to conduct everyday activities such as opening jars, standing up from chairs and supporting their own bodyweight.

“For older individuals, walking may represent the most familiar and comfortable type of physical activity,” Phillips said. “Muscle-strengthening exercises should be promoted more aggressively in retirement communities and made more appealing to residents.”

To combat the lack of physical activity among seniors, Phillips says health care providers should discuss exercise programs with their patients and share the possible risks associated with their lack of exercise, such as losing their ability to live independently. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals 65 years of age and older that have no limiting health conditions should do muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups at least two days a week.

Phillips’ research, “Retirement Community Residents’ Physical Activity, Depressive Symptoms, and Functional Limitations,” was published in Clinical Nursing Research.

  • Original report by Diamond Dixon, University of Missouri


Center for Disease Control and Prevention

How much physical activity do older adults need?

Physical Activity is Essential to Healthy Aging

As an older adult, regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It can prevent many of the health problems that seem to come with age. It also helps your muscles grow stronger so you can keep doing your day-to-day activities without becoming dependent on others.

Not doing any physical activity can be bad for you, no matter your age or health condition. Keep in mind, some physical activity is better than none at all. Your health benefits will also increase with the more physical activity that you do.

If you're 65 years of age or older, are generally fit, and have no limiting health conditions you can follow the guidelines listed below.

  For Important Health Benefits

Older adults need at least:

2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and

muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

    OR

1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week and

muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

    OR

An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and

muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

 

10 minutes at a time is fine

We know 150 minutes each week sounds like a lot of time, but it's not. That's 2 hours and 30 minutes, about the same amount of time you might spend watching a movie. The good news is that you can spread your activity out during the week, so you don't have to do it all at once. You can even break it up into smaller chunks of time during the day. It's about what works best for you, as long as you're doing physical activity at a moderate or vigorous effort for at least 10 minutes at a time.

 

>> More about Exercise for Seniors at CDC

 

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