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exercise for older people

Staying Fit As You Age

No one can stop the calendar, so getting older is a fact of life. But becoming frail with age doesn’t necessarily have to be a result of aging. There are ways to keep your body in tune and performing better as the years pass. Therefore, our family practice doctors in Delray Beach want to share some tips that can help you stay fit as you get older.

And as you might have guessed, there is work involved, because the old saying “use it or lose it” is certainly true when it comes to your body.

You already know many of the benefits of exercise: cardiovascular health, improved mood, weight control, increased energy, lower stress, better control of such chronic diseases as diabetes and arthritis, and even cancer. Exercise has also been shown to help prevent dementia, depression and insomnia.

Along with these proven benefits, exercise can also help improve bone strength, balance, and muscle mass as we age.

 

Bone strength

People tend to think of bones as solid objects, but they are actually living tissue. New bone is constantly being made, but without exercise, they become weaker (osteoporosis) and subject to breakage. Bone mineral density (BMD) drops by about one percent a year once you reach your 70s.

But because bones are living tissue, just like muscles, they can be strengthened. The best bone-building exercises are weight-bearing and resistance exercises. These include:

  • walking
  • hiking
  • jogging
  • climbing stairs
  • tennis
  • dancing
  • working with weights

 

Balance

Maintaining balance as you age is crucial because one-quarter of seniors who fall and fracture a hip will die within six months of their injury.

And other statistics regarding senior falls are just as sobering:

  • Falls are the leading cause of death from injury among people 65 and older.
  • The risk of falls increases with age, and is greater for women than for men: Over half of seniors aged 80 and older fall every year.

 

Tai Chi, a gentle routine of slow-motion exercises, has been shown repeatedly to not only increase balance, but to decrease dizziness, a common cause of falls. Other exercises that improve stability and balance include yoga, bicycling, walking, and water workouts.

Some other simple exercises to help preserve balance can be done anywhere.

  • Sit-to-stand: Get up from a straight-backed chair 10-20 times without using your hands.
  • One-legged stands: With a wall or chair nearby, stand on one foot for 30 seconds, then switch to the other foot.
  • Heel-to-toe walk: Take 20 steps while looking straight ahead.

 

Muscle mass

It’s common to lose some strength as we get older, a condition known as sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss. But again, exercise can help slow down the deterioration.

To preserve muscles, you need to combine regular aerobic activity with resistance training.

The American Heart Association and the World Health Organization, among others, recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week, ideally spread out so you get some on most days.

The President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition further recommends that adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups two or more days a week.

The best way to increase muscle mass is to lift weights. They don’t have to be heavy and you’re not aiming to become a bodybuilder. You can start slowly, with two-pound hand weights and slowly increase to five- or 10-pound weights.

Wall push-ups utilize your body’s own weight to build upper-body muscle, while squats work the lower body. Aim for 10 of each every day. Or perform the bone-building exercises listed above.

 

Take it easy

We’ve split out these different types of exercises into three categories, but you can probably tell that each type of exercise confers more than one benefit. Strength training also contributes to bone health, balance exercises benefit muscle mass, and so on.

But it’s important not to overdo things, especially if you’ve been generally sedentary until now. Jumping into vigorous exercise can not only result in injury, but can dampen your enthusiasm if you do become injured. No one’s keeping score, so you can begin as slowly as you feel comfortable with, and gradually build up more repetitions, longer time intervals, and heavier weights.

If you’re not sure where to begin, you might consider joining a class, either online, or in person once the coronavirus danger has passed.

If you have osteoarthritis or other physical limitations, check with us before beginning any exercise program. We can recommend an exercise regime suited to your needs. We may also refer you to a physical therapist who can provide you with a tailored workout plan.

But don’t feel you can’t exercise if you have, for example, osteoarthritis. Studies have shown that exercise can actually relieve the aches and pains associated with this and other diseases.

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