As an Exercise Physiologist, I continuously meet clients who express concern that they or their family members are too old for exercise. In fact, exercise can play a vital role in the overall health of older populations. As we age, we progressively lose our capacity to perform normal activities of daily life. We are at an increased risk of falls and we suffer from the progressive degeneration of the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular system, resulting in weakness and frequent shortness of breath. An appropriate exercise program can aid in the treatment and prevention of these symptoms, improving one’s quality of life.
Exercise can be tailored to all ages and all levels, and can include cardiovascular exercise (walking or bike riding), resistance based exercise and flexibility. These methods of training can assist in improving muscle and bone health, shortness of breath, balance and falls prevention, and walking technique or gait.
Weight bearing exercises and loaded exercises can assist in increasing bone strength or bone mineral density. Osteoporosis is a common disease in older populations, where the bones become brittle and fragile. Increasing bone mineral density is crucial for reducing the number of fractures sustained by older populations. Evidence shows that 30% of people aged 65 years or older, will fall per year. Of this thirty percent, 90% will fracture their hip which can have detrimental effects on their livelihood and independence. An exercise program can be tailored to not just increase bone strength, but also improve peripheral sensation and proprioception which can improve balance, for falls prevention.
Additionally, strength training can increase our muscle mass to reduce symptoms of weakness and fatigue. Sarcopenia is another common disease which is suffered by older populations, that results in a progressive loss of lean muscle mass and function. This can begin at 60 years of age, resulting in a 40% loss by the age of 80. Through safe and appropriate exercise prescription and guidance on adequate nutritional intake, we can increase your muscle mass, assisting in simple daily tasks, such as getting up and down out of chairs and lifting handbags.
Cardiovascular exercise such as walking, riding and swimming (a less impact option) can improve your heart and lung health. This can help increase oxygen intake to the muscles and into the blood stream, thus improving your capacity to complete everyday activities. Additionally, cardiovascular exercise can improve your lung function and breathing capacity, reducing your shortness of breath during daily tasks. Walking can also be beneficial for improvements in balance as well as one’s walking pattern. As we age, we become less confident on our feet, especially on uneven surfaces or busy streets. Improving one’s confidence with walking through focus on technique can assist with improvements in walking speed, reaction time and joint range of motion.
Exercise can be performed at home, for example sitting and standing up from you chair five times after every meal. Or walking a lap around the house before showering and having active visits with family and carers. If you would like more ideas like this, contact Optimum Health Solutions and ask for one of our friendly Exercise Physiologists.