Exercise is great when you’re young or middle-aged, but is it useful when you’re retired and you don’t need to be as active anymore? The answer is a resounding “yes”! Moderate exercise is good for people of all ages. Older people may not be able to move as fast or for as long, but the health benefits of regular exercise in this group are unquestionable. Regular exercise in the elderly prevents chronic disease, improves mood, and lowers the risk of injury. The benefits far outweigh the risks. Exercise can have a positive impact in a variety of medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, high blood pressure and obesity. There’s no reason why an elderly person with a chronic illness can’t find a type of exercise to suit him or her.
Elderly people do not have the stamina, strength, or suppleness of younger people, so an ideal exercise regimen for them consists of activities that maintain or slowly build up all of these physical attributes.
Elderly people should aim to do at least half an hour per day of exercise that increases their heart rate and makes them breathe faster (cardiorespiratory endurance exercise). Good examples include walking, cycling, and swimming. These activities help your body to deliver oxygen and nutrients and to remove carbon dioxide and waste products. If you’re just starting and tire easily, there’s nothing to stop you doing three 10-minute sessions of exercise instead of one 30-minutes session. With time, your ability to exercise and perform everyday tasks without getting out of breath will improve.
About half the loss in stamina in older people is down to a decrease in muscle mass. Strength training prevents the loss of muscle, as well as preventing bone loss and improving balance. It uses repetitive exercises, with or without equipment, to work and build muscles. Strength training equipment includes weights, resistance bands, and multigym systems. However, although useful equipment isn’t necessary: lunges, sit-ups, leg raises, push-ups, and star jumps will also do the trick. All the muscle groups should be worked two to three times a week by doing 1 to 2 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions of moderate intensity, with breaks if necessary. With progress, heavier weights can be used. After exercise, muscle soreness is normal and may last a while, as with age, the body recovers and repairs itself more slowly.
Stretching is easily overlooked, but it is a particularly important part of the exercise regimen of older people. By slowly warming up and cooling down your muscles, stretching maintains or improves flexibility, prevents injury, and minimizes muscle stiffness. Stretching gives you the time and opportunity to assess how your body is feeling. Having this knowledge prior to exercise can prevent injury later. The disciplines of yoga and Pilates have exercises for stretching and working particular muscle groups, in particular “core” muscles in the stomach region, the body’s center of gravity. “Core” muscles underpin all movement and strength in the body; a strong core facilitates movement, encourages better posture, and reduces all-over muscle pain.