Rina Caprarella, M.D.
Exercise is an often overlooked but imperative aspect of a healthy lifestyle in the elderly. It is reported that more than 30% of those aged 65 and above do not exercise, but the number is probably higher. Barriers to initiating an exercise routine include:
- 1. Lack of knowledge.
- 2. Fear and motivation.
- 3. Environmental factors and lack of access.
There are a number of serious health problems that can develop in the elderly. Risk factors for falls in the elderly include: deteriorations in physical capacity that cause balance deficiencies, lower limb muscle weakness and slowed reaction time. Exercise increases strength, improves sleep, and helps treat many diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and peripheral vascular disease. In addition, exercise decreases depression, protects the brain from aging and improves quality of life. Being fit is one of the most important protectors of health and as we age, leading an active lifestyle becomes more important than ever. Regular exercise helps seniors maintain health, boost energy and improve confidence.
There are many benefits, both physical and mental, from engaging in an exercise regime. Physically, exercise can assist in maintaining or losing weight. It can be instrumental in reducing the impact of illness and chronic disease. It also enhances mobility, flexibly, and balance in seniors. It can also benefit regular brain function and may slow the progression of certain brain disorders.
It is best to choose a well-rounded exercise plan for senior health. An ideal program would include strength, balance, flexibility, weight training as well as aerobic activities. Pilates, yoga and T’ai Chi are excellent choices as they improve psychological health, balance, reaction time, strength and have been shown to reduce the risk of falls. Falls in the elderly are often associated with an increase in morbidity and mortality.
It is essential to check with your doctor before initiating any exercise program. All programs should begin slowly and build up gradually. Most importantly, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Exercise should never hurt or make you feel worse. Local senior centers and some health clubs offer classes specifically geared toward the aging population.
The best news is, no matter what your age or physical condition, you can benefit from exercise. Just by adding movement to your life, even in small ways, you can improve your mind, body and spirit.