The benefits of exercise for the elderly

Many older adults do not receive a sufficient amount of exercise daily; however, incorporating and providing exercise options for elders to choose from can be both beneficial and enjoyable for this population.   As adults age, they experience a decrease in muscle mass, joint flexibility, and bone density which then increases the likelihood of accidental falls, leading to more severe injury and additional problems overtime.  The activity level of senior citizens is important in managing health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and other chronic diseases.  The physical deterioration and increasing isolation may develop into depression, loneliness, and other psychological conditions.  An exercise regimen as part of older adults’ lifestyles provides benefits to their overall health.

Exercising daily can reduce the number of injuries and accidents for older adults.  According to University of Memphis researchers of The American Journal of Chinese Medicine (2007), “The estimated cost of injury from falls of the elderly in 1984 reached $3.7 billion and in 1987 falls were the leading cause of accidental death.”  Losing muscle mass and diminishing bone density are a few common developments accompanying with aging that make the risk of accidental related injuries for older adults more frequent.  The same group of researchers indicated that “6% of the elderly population may incur major injuries from a fall and 1% may result in hip fractures” (Li, Devault, Oteghen, 2007).

Providing resistance training for older adults can be a helpful measure in lowering the risk of injury.  Resistance training helps increase muscle hypertrophy (muscle mass gains) and helps to maintain and strengthen the muscular skeleton.  Many older adults may not be familiar with how to properly use weight lifting equipment; however a personal trainer or fitness instructor can help to design a workout plan, show clients how to correctly perform each exercise, and provide supervision to guide elders towards fitness goals that meet their individual needs.

Selecting and adapting exercises that focus on using the core muscles with stability balls and medicine balls will help improve seniors’ balance, coordination, stability, mobility, and flexibility in a continuing series of small steps that will lower the likelihood of injuries occurring.  Overtime, an elder who has incorporated resistance training into their lives will strengthen his bones and this causes less strain and pain in the body throughout everyday activities than for someone who remains sedentary the rest of his life.  For instance, a sedentary elderly individual trying to work outside in a garden may suffer with more lower back pain than an elder who participates in a form of exercise daily. Moreover, exercise also appears to increase longevity in elders.  A study published in The New York Times indicates that there were “slightly fewer than 7 percent of the active 85-year-olds died by age 88, versus about 24 percent of those who were inactive” (“Exercise Can Extend Survival Even in ‘Oldest Old’ ”, 2009).  Decreasing a number of hazardous and problematic health conditions can be possible through the beneficiary effects of exercise.

Aerobic activity can reduce the risk of developing some debilitating conditions, and can lessen the severity of others for the elderly.  Struck and Ross (2006) indicated that  “rates of illness and disability increase sharply for those individuals older than age 85, resulting in loss of ability to perform activities of daily living (ADL) and instrumental activities of daily living (LADL).” Along with age, come long term problems that create worry, frustration, and limit the quality of life for older adults on a daily basis.

The risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and obesity are just some of the many chronic diseases that affect the population of the older generation.  Researchers at the University of Dundee looking at chronic heart failure (CHF) concluded, “Exercise training has the potential to improve the disabling tiredness and breathlessness that limit daily activities for people with CHF, thus improving their functional ability and quality of life” (McMurdo, M. E.T., Struthers, A. D., Witham, M.D., 2003).  Diminishing or reducing these health problems can be challenging, but incorporating aerobic exercises that strengthen the cardiovascular system and the heart also helps decrease the likelihood of an elder having a stroke or cardiac infarction (heart attack).

Two other common chronic conditions impacting the lives of the elderly that can be mitigated through exercise are obesity and fatigue.  Another long-term killer in today’s world is obesity.  Obesity contributes to high blood cholesterol levels and high blood pressure which can be very detrimental for elders. University of Oklahoma researchers Bryan Struck and Karen Ross (2006) found that “physical activity has also been shown to lower systolic blood pressure by 8.4 points in sedentary adults over age 60 without the use of medication.”  Obesity also increases the risk of developing diabetes.  Diabetes then contributes to heart diseases. These long term effects are linked together in a chain that may alter an elder’s lifestyle.  Increasing the total lung capacity for older individuals helps them endure more physical activity before reaching fatigue.  Living day to day with these critical problems may be difficult; however, providing exercise opportunities, especially when these include aerobic activities, will show only positive outcomes.

Providing an appropriate environment for exercise can diminish the emotional toll of aging.  Most of the elderly experience a stage of psychological depression in their later lives.  For instance, losing a loved one, such as a family member, husband, or wife that has passed away can be hard for adults, but extremely devastating for the elderly.  In another case, just being alone year after year can emotionally affect the mindset of an older individual.  For example, an elderly lady living in a nursing home without contact from any members of her family nor having a soul mate can be a lonely emotional rollercoaster to ride. Exercise boosts an individual’s metabolism which can then increase his appetite, energy level, and mental awareness, as well as improve his overall physical health, all leading to a healthier, emotional, and psychological state.Silver Sneakers

There are some options for addressing the loneliness and isolation often experienced by the elder generation through activity.  Providing an appropriate environment is key.  Most senior citizens may never think about joining a gym due to the intimidation factor.  For example, professional athletes like body builders and power lifters tend to scream and yell when training, which ultimately moves older adults away from this type of environment.  However, providing health clubs and fitness centers for senior citizens such as “Curves” http://www.curves.com/can provide many physical benefits as well as helping to alleviate psychological tensions.  Local health clubs and fitness centers that accommodate the elderly provide great opportunities for exercise that can accomplish two goals.   One, it helps boost the spirits of the elders, and second, it provides benefits for their overall health.

SilverSneakers
Photo Courtesy of www.perinton.org

Programs in health clubs such as “Silver Sneakers” www.silversneakers.com can allow older adults to come to the gym on a regular basis and participate in fitness classes, programs, and seminars that accommodate their needs, including regimens that incorporate the use of wheel chairs,

walkers, or canes.  These programs, taught by certified instructors, deliver beneficial workouts and allow older adults to interact and socialize with others to meet new friends or buddies to work out with, or even find a new soul mate to love.  Older adults do not have to be alone.  Memberships to fitness centers can decrease loneliness as people come together in an elder-friendly environment.

Providing exercise for the elderly brings only positive outcomes both physically and mentally.  Dr. Jeremy Jacobs, a geriatric specialist at Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, says, “As little as four hours a week was a beneficial as more vigorous or prolonged activity” (“Exercise Can Extend Survival Even in ‘Oldest Old’ ”, 2009).  Reducing the number of health concerns related to aging and addressing chronic conditions may be difficult, but incorporating forms of resistance training and aerobic exercise into older adults’ lives can help to eliminate these problems and can play a critical role in helping to reduce further development of chronic illnesses.  The 1996 Surgeon General’s report on physical activity states that “no one is too old to enjoy the benefits of regular physical activity” (Struck & Ross, 2006).  Becoming involved in a fitness atmosphere around groups of people can help brighten the spirit of the elderly.   Incorporating an enjoyable form of exercise, whether it is resistance or aerobic exercises, into the lives of the elderly population can narrow the negative aspects of aging and provide benefits towards improving the overall health of their minds, bodies, and souls.

References

Exercise can extend survival even in ‘oldest old’ says The New York Times. (2009, September 14).  Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com.

Li, Y., Devault, C. N., Oteghen, S. V. (2007).  Effects of extended tai chi intervention on balance and selected motor factions of the elderly.  The American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 35(3) 383-391.  Retrieved from http://www.worldscinet.com/ajcm.

McMurdo, M. E. T., Struthers, A. D., Witham, M.D. (2003, May).  Exercise training as a therapy for chronic heart failure: Can older people benefit?  The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society51(5) 699-709.  Retrieved from http://www.wiley.com/bw/journal.asp?ref=0002-8614.

Struck, B. D., Ross, K. M. (2006, May).  Health promotion in older adults: Prescribing exercise for the frail and home bound.  Geriatrics61(5) 22-27.  Retrieved from http://www.geri.com.

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