Physical activity is good for you at every stage of life! In fact, it is one of the best investments you can make towards your continued good health.
According to the World Health Organization, sedentary living (physical inactivity) is the greatest health risk for older adults. Whether you are 65, 75 or older, now is the time to get moving.
Research has shown that being moderately to vigorously active for as little as 60 minutes a day can bring important health benefits, at any age. Considering that there are 1,440 minutes in a day, making a small 60 minute investment in your own health each day makes good sense!
Regular physical activity will allow you to keep doing the things you enjoy and try out new activities. There are so many ways to be active, such as travelling, playing with your grandchildren, volunteering, dancing, canoeing, hiking or walking. After all, age doesn’t have to stop you from having fun!
Benefits of Physical Activity
For older adults, regular physical activity routine can:
- improve your health and enhance your quality of life
- help to maintain your independence
- prevent disease
- ease symptoms and/or slow progression of chronic conditions
- help build muscle strength, flexibility and balance, to prevent falls
- facilitate a faster recovery from surgery or a fall
For many people, physical activity is one of the best ways to manage the symptoms of a medical condition or disease. For example, people with arthritis can find pain relief in gentle movement of the joints. As the fitness experts say, “Motion is the lotion for your joints!” Keeping your muscles strong also helps to make the joints stronger and healthier.
Myth versus Fact
One myth that many people believe is that people should slow down as they get older. In reality, research has shown that you need to be more active as you get older, to help counteract the normal effects of aging, such as reduced muscle strength.
Another myth is that aches, pains, muscle weakness and reduced physical ability are all part of getting old and there is “nothing” you can do about it. In fact, most aging-related health issues arise due to insufficient physical activity.
In other words, the answer to both of these “myths” is that older adults should be more physically active. The expression “use it or lose it” is true in many ways. The more physically active you are now, the better health you will enjoy in the long run.
Taking the First Steps
Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out what physical activities you should get involved in. Whatever your age, think about the physical activities you currently enjoy doing, and others that interest you.
Try making a short list to choose from. It’s time to give some of these activities a try! Remember, most activities can be adapted to suit your current ability level.
If you can no longer do some of your favourite activities, try something new. For example, if you can’t golf as often as you used to, try joining a fitness program that involves gentle stretching or exercises that you can do at your own pace.
Try to enjoy different activities in different seasons, or choose some that can be done all year long.
Friends and Motivators
Sticking to a routine of physical activity is a challenge for many people. One of the best ways to stay motivated is to do activities with a friend or two, such as walking together a few times a week.
The time you spend on regular physical activity can give you great returns. But remember, your body cannot “store” fitness. Activity has to be a regular part of your daily or weekly routine.
Here are a few more tips to think about before you begin a new physical activity:
- Consult with your doctor about your physical activity choices and plans.
- When you begin, remember to go slowly. Slowly increase the amount and/or intensity of your activity over time. As the activity becomes easier, increase the length of time you do it and/or how hard you work. For example, on the first day, walk around the block once or twice and see how it feels. Each day, slowly build up the distance that you walk, until you decide which distance feels right for you.
- Always challenge your body a little. This is how you will get stronger, and maintain your endurance and balance. You want to work toward being physically active at a moderate intensity every day for at least 30 minutes.
- Set realistic goals for yourself. Write them down and put them in a place where you will see them every day. Congratulate yourself when you meet your goals!
Did you know that the more you sit, the greater your risk of falling? No matter how old you are, when you are not active, your body loses muscular strength, endurance, balance and flexibility.
Plus, as you age, your reaction time becomes slower, your muscle tone declines, and your bone density and cushioning in the joints decreases.
For these and other reasons, older adults are statistically more likely to experience a fall. Preventing an older adult from falling is important because the health-related consequences of a fall can be serious, including longer recovery times.
The good news is that regular physical activity can slow the effects of aging and help to prevent falls, by increasing your muscle tone and overall fitness, which helps you to keep your balance in daily life and when doing physical activities.
Along with regular physical activity, here are a few more tips to prevent falling:
- wear proper clothing and supportive footwear
- use a walking aid if necessary (such as a walking stick or cane)
- go at your own pace
- stay hydrated – drink water throughout the day
If you are walking, biking or using a wheelchair or scooter, plan your route with your health and safety in mind. For example, is there a bench or other area where you can stop and rest if you need to?
Whatever You Choose
No matter which physical activities you choose to do, enjoy being active and using your body. It will feel good if you keep moving in your own way, every day!
Keen to get started? Check out the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Older Adults and other resources for information and inspiration.
Alberta 55 Plus
Promotes lifelong fitness through active living.
Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Older Adults
Basic information on the benefits of physical activity and tips on how to get started.
Power of Strength Training for Older Adults
This article on the Active Living Coalition for Older Adults website includes information about how our muscles change as we age, the impact of a sedentary lifestyle, what to do and how often, and how hard you should be working.
30 Tips on How Older Adults Can Get Active
An article published by the International Council on Active Aging offers activity tips for people over 50.