For the most part, when older people lose their ability to do things on their own, it doesnt happen just because they have aged. More likely, it is because they have become inactive. Older inactive adults lose ground in four areas that are important for staying healthy and independent: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.
Fortunately, research suggests that you can maintain or at least partly restore these four areas through exercise or through everyday physical activities (walking briskly or gardening, for example) that accomplish some of the same goals as exercise. What may seem like very small changes resulting from exercise and physical activity can have a big impact.
Getting Past The Barriers
In fact, just about every older adult can safely do some form of physical activity at little or no cost. And you dont have to exercise in a public place or use expensive equipment, if you dont want to.
Even household chores can improve your health. The key is to increase your physical activity, by exercising and by using your own muscle power.
Who Can Exercise?
Tthere are certain situations in which you should check with your doctor before starting to exercise. You will also find out about a couple of conditions that prohibit exercise. if you still have any doubts about exercise, talk to your doctor before you start.
You probably have heard the term aerobics
or aerobic exercises. We call them endurance exercises
or endurance activities. These activities increase your heart
rate and breathing for an extended period of time.
Most people know that exercise is good for them. Somehow, though, older adults have been left out of the picture until recently. Today a new picture is emerging from research: Older people of different physical conditions have much to gain from exercise and from staying physically active. They also have much to lose if they become physically inactive.
Exercise isnt just for older adults in the younger age range, who live independently and are able to go on brisk jogs, although this book is for them, too. Researchers have found that exercise and physical activity also can improve the health of people who are 90 or older, who are frail, or who have the diseases that seem to accompany aging. Staying physically active and exercising regularly can help prevent or delay some diseases and disabilities as people grow older. In some cases, it can improve health for older people who already have diseases and disabilities, if its done on a long-term, regular basis.
What Kinds of Activities Improve Health and Ability?
Endurance exercises increase your breathing and heart rate. They improve the health of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. Having more endurance not only helps keep you healthier; it can also improve your stamina for the tasks you need to do to live and do things on your own climbing stairs and grocery shopping, for example. Endurance exercises also may delay or prevent many diseases associated with aging, such as diabetes, colon cancer, heart disease, stroke, and others, and reduce overall death and hospitalization rates.
Strength exercises build your muscles, but they do more than just make you stronger. They give you more strength to do things on your own. Even very small increases in muscle can make a big difference in ability, especially for frail people. Strength exercises also increase your metabolism, helping to keep your weight and blood sugar in check. Thats important because obesity and diabetes are major health problems for older adults. Studies suggest that strength exercises also may help prevent osteoporosis.
Balance exercises help prevent a common problem in older adults: falls. Falling is a major cause of broken hips and other injuries that often lead to disability and loss of independence. Some balance exercises build up your leg muscles; others require you to do simple activities like briefly standing on one leg.
Flexibility exercises help keep your body limber by stretching your muscles and the tissues that hold your bodys structures in place. Physical therapists and other health professionals recommend certain stretching exercises to help patients recover from injuries and to prevent injuries from happening in the first place. Flexibility also may play a part in preventing falls.
Which Ones Should I Do, and How Much Should I Do?
In other words, exercise as much as you can. Its best to increase both the types and amounts of exercises and physical activities you do. Gradually build up to include: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility exercises. (We show you how in Chapter 4.)
Now that you have read about all the benefits of exercise, we hope you are enthusiastic about getting started. However, its important to start at a level you can manage and work your way up gradually.
For one thing, if you do too much too quickly, you can damage your muscles and tissues, and that can keep you on the sidelines. For another, your enthusiasm needs to last a lifetime. The benefits of exercise and physical activity come from making them a permanent habit. Start with one or two types of exercises that you can manage and that you really can fit into your schedule, then add more as you adjust to ensure that you will stick with it.
How much you exercise depends on you and on your unique situation. For some, muscle-building exercise might mean pushing more than a hundred pounds of weight at the local gym to keep your legs in shape for hiking or jogging. For others, it might mean lifting 1-pound weights to strengthen your arm muscles enough to use a washcloth. That might mean the dignity that comes from being able to wash yourself, instead of having someone else do it for you. The goal is to improve from wherever you are right now.
Some people are reluctant to start exercising because they are afraid it will be too strenuous. Researchers have found that you dont have to do strenuous exercises to gain health benefits; moderate exercises are effective, too. (You will read more about the difference between vigorous and moderate exercises later in this book.)
How Much Physical Activity Is Enough?
We cant always give you answers, yet, but we can give examples of what researchers have found out. For instance, bus and taxi drivers, who are physically inactive, have a higher rate of heart disease than men in other occupations. And studies show that people who remain physically active have a lower death rate than people who dont.
In another study, researchers measured muscle strength in 75-year-olds who regularly did tasks like housework and gardening and in 75-year-olds who were inactive. Five years later they found that the active people kept more of their strength than did the inactive people.
While we cant yet tell you exactly how much everyday physical activity you should get to gain specific health benefits, the message of these studies is clear: Whatever your age, stay physically active!