EBSCO Health

Print PageSend to a Friend
Health Library Home>Wellness Centers>Aging & Health>Article

Fitness: Elixir for the Ages

Growing older is no picnic…but a regular fitness routine can jump start your memory, your metabolism, and your state of mind.

Paying the Price for Not Exercising

The aging process brings a natural decline in strength caused by the loss of muscle tissue. This promotes frailty and the impaired ability to move about with ease, which is often associated with aging. Decreased strength means less energy to do everyday activities, such as household chores, grocery shopping, and climbing stairs.

An inactive lifestyle further aggravates the aging process by increasing the risk of developing obesity and other diseases, including high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and coronary artery disease.

Helping to Reverse the Effects of Aging

Now for the good news. Regular, moderate physical activity has been shown to lower the risk of or improve the symptoms of many chronic diseases. Exercise helps build muscle and bone strength and improves balance and flexibility—all of which can protect your body from falls that can cause debilitating fractures. Exercise may also boost the immune system to help fight off colds and the flu, control arthritic symptoms such as joint swelling and pain, improve mood and self-confidence, and enhance a deeper sleep.

Gaining Benefits at Any Age

Even the most frail elderly people benefit from exercise. In one study, 100 nursing home residents ranging in age from 72 to 98 years old were placed on a 10-week strength-training regimen. Most of the residents in the study depended on canes, walkers, or wheelchairs. By the end of the program, not only did they increase their muscle size and strength, but they also moved about with greater ease, even improving their ability to climb stairs—all of which greatly boosted their morale.

Getting Help for Getting Started

Anyone, at any age and with almost any condition, can be physically active to some degree. Before starting an exercise program, talk to your doctor. This is especially important if you:

Your doctor may have suggestions for an exercise program that meets your particular needs. In some cases, you may be referred to a physical therapist or certified fitness trainer.

Having a Goal in Mind

If your doctor gives you approval to exercise, you'll want to know how long to do so. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends these exercise guidelines to gain health benefits:

To gain even more health benefits, the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends these weekly goals:

Remember that it is okay if you exercise for just 10 minutes at a time, spread throughout the day.

Including Some Variety

Remember that growing older is inevitable—feeling old is not. Keeping active at any age will allow you to enjoy life to its fullest.

RESOURCES:

National Institute on Aging
http://www.nia.nih.gov

NIH Senior Health
http://nihseniorhealth.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

REFERENCES:

Bean JF, Vora A, Frontera WR. Benefits of exercise for community-dwelling older adults. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2004;85(Suppl 3):S33.

Bischoff H, Stahelin H, Dick W, et al. Effects of vitamin D and calcium supplementation on falls: A randomized controlled trial. J Bone Miner Res. 2003;81(2):343-351.

Chapter 5: Active older adults. US Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/chapter5.aspx. Accessed June 29, 2017.

Degenerative arthritis (list of topics). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T212952/Degenerative-arthritis-list-of-topics. Updated May 21, 2014. Accessed June 29, 2017.

Exercise: How to get started. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/prevention-wellness/exercise-fitness/exercise-basics/exercise-how-to-get-started.html. Updated May 2017. Accessed June 29, 2017.

Fiatarone M, O'Neill E, Ryan N, et al. Exercise training and nutritional supplementation for physical frailty in very elderly people. N Engl J Med. 1994;330(25):1769-1775.

Frankel JE, Bean JF, Frontera WR. Exercise in the elderly: Research and clinical practice. Clin Geriatr Med. 2006; 22(2): 239-256.

How much physical activity do older adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/older_adults/index.htm. Updated June 4, 2015. Accessed June 29, 2017.

Matthews CE, Ockene IS, Freedson PS, Rosal MC, Merriam PA, Hebert JR. Moderate to vigorous physical activity and risk of upper-respiratory tract infection. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002;34(8):1242-1248.

Neid R, Franklin B. Promoting and prescribing exercise for the elderly. Am Fam Physician. 20021;65(3):419-427.

Last reviewed June 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardMichael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 7/13/2015