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Is it safe for seniors older than 65 years to exercise?

By Peter DiMaria


According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), older adults, both male and female, can benefit from the regular physical activity. Physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits. Older adults can obtain significant health benefits with a moderate amount of physical activity, preferably daily. A moderate amount of activity can be obtained in longer sessions of moderately intense activities (such as walking) or shorter sessions of more vigorous activities (such as fast walking or stair walking).

Additional health benefits can be gained through greater amounts of physical activity, either by increasing the duration, intensity, or frequency. Because of the risk of injury increases at high levels of physical activity, it is important to take care not to engage in excessive amounts of activity.

Previously sedentary older adults who begin physical activity programs should start with short intervals of moderate physical activity (5-10 minutes) and gradually build up to the desired amount.

With age, the body does take a little longer to repair itself, but moderate physical activity is good for people of all ages and ability levels. In fact, the benefits of your elderly parents exercising regularly far outweigh the risks. Even older adults with chronic illnesses can exercise safely. Many medical conditions are improved with exercise, including Alzheimer's and dementia, heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, high blood pressure and obesity.

Regular exercise provides a myriad of health benefits, including improvements in blood pressure, diabetes, lipid profile, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and neuro-cognitive function.

Talk to your doctor before you start

It is particularly important if you haven’t been exercising in a while. Let him (or her) know you are going to begin exercising or will be increasing your activity level. You also should check with your doctor if you have:

  • Chest pain or pain in your left arm and neck
  • Any shortness of breath
  • A heart condition
  • Any bone or joint problems
  • If you are currently taking blood pressure or cardiac medications
  • Any unexplained dizziness or fainting

Benefits of regular exercise 

  • Immune Function. A healthy, strong body fights off infection and sickness easily and quickly;

  • Cardio-Respiratory and Cardiovascular Function. It is widely known that regular exercise reduces the risk of dying from coronary heart disease and of developing high blood pressure. If hypertension already exists, exercise will help lower the blood pressure;

  • Bone Density and Risk of Osteoporosis. Exercise protects against loss in bone mass. Better bone density will reduce the risk of osteoporosis, helping to maintain the ability to live independently and reducing the risk of falling and fracturing bones. Post-menopausal women can lose as much as 2 percent bone mass each year, and men also lose bone mass as they age. Research has shown that strength training can dramatically reduce this loss, help restore bones, and contribute to better balance and fewer fractures;

  • Reduce Arthritis Pain: Overall, exercise helps maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints. It helps control joint swelling and pain associated with arthritis;

  • Avoid depression. Exercising reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression and fosters improvements in mood and feelings of well-being;

  • Gastrointestinal Function. Regular exercise helps boost your metabolism and promotes the efficient elimination of waste and encourages digestive health;

  • Chronic Conditions and Cancer. Physical activity lowers risk of serious conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis and colon cancer, to name a few. It also helps in the management of high cholesterol and arthritis pain.

The loss of strength and stamina attributed to aging is in part caused by reduced physical activity. Inactivity increases with age. According to the CDC, by age 75, about one in three men and one in two women engage in no physical activity.

Among adults aged 65 years and older, walking and gardening or yard work are, by far, the most popular physical activities.

Social support from family and friends has been consistently and positively related to the regular physical activity.