Health experts are constantly conducting research in order to learn more about the benefits of exercise for the elderly. Studies have shown that sedentary adults are more likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers, and joint and muscle disorders.
To help ward off these conditions and to deal with the everyday wear and tear that aging has on our bodies, experts suggest that individuals over the age of 50 should consult their physician and a personal trainer to come up with a fitness plan that works for them.
According to MSNBC, Joe Scott, a NATA member who is outpatient orthopedic team leader for South Coast Hospitals Group in New Bedford, MA says, “If we continue to exercise, especially strength training, we decrease the loss of bone density. Just by working on strength training, you’re working your muscles to keep strong.”
Elderly adults who do choose to maintain an exercise regimen experience the same benefits as their younger counterparts including weight control, the ability to manage daily stress and improved self-confidence. In addition, experts say regular exercise can lower blood pressure, increase strength and stamina, enhance flexibility, improve balance and coordination in senior citizens, curb depression, reduce the risk of premature death and minimizes the development of brittle bones. A 1994 Tufts University study showed that even at age 98, exercise and strength training can significantly reverse a loss of strength.
Many people think that beyond a certain age, you become too weak to strength train or benefit from it. But research shows the complete opposite. Without adequate muscle exercise, most adults lose 20 to 40 percent of the muscle they had as young adults. With too much muscle loss people have difficulties performing daily activities that allow them to live independently.
Experts say that even small gains in muscle – too small to see – can make significant differences in how seniors live. Strength training can affect whether an older person can get out of a chair without help. It can also influence their sense of balance, risk of falls and fractures, and the ability to climb stairs or carry groceries. Strength training can even make bones stronger and weight control easier.
One recent study of seniors showed that after six months of strength training, strength in a variety of muscle groups increased 31 percent for the duration of the two-year study. Other studies show benefits for the frail elderly living in nursing homes. People who had formerly needed walkers to get around could use a cane instead.
As found on MSNBC.com, the National Institute on Aging recommends strength training of all major muscle groups: arms, shoulders, chest, abdomen, back, hips and legs, as well as exercise to enhance grip strength. The NIA has even developed a free exercise guidebook to help seniors train safely. It includes 12 strength-training exercises, equipment options, safety cautions (especially for those who have had hip replacements) and resources for additional free information. View it at www.nia.nih.gov/exercisebook .
Seniors often identify access to appropriate equipment as a barrier to strength training. While free weights or Nautilus-type equipment at fitness centers are one option, elastic bands or resistance tubing, which are sold at sporting good stores and discount chains, are effective at keeping seniors strong. Even cans of food or water bottles filled with beans or sand can work.
The American Institute for Cancer Research emphasizes regular exercise, ideally an hour a day, as a vital part of a lifestyle to lower cancer risk and promote good health and a healthy weight. Aerobic exercise like walking, biking and swimming can be the mainstay of your activity. But we all need to include exercise that maintains our flexibility, balance and strength. And that doesn’t change as we age.