Understanding senior fitness is important since so much attention is focused on fitness issues among our younger population. Recent statistics reveal that less than 10 percent of people ages 50 to 64 regularly participate in vigorous physical activity. Worse yet, these same statistics reveal that fewer than 3 percent of those over age 65 regularly engage in any physical activity.
The key word is activity. Several studies indicate that people who participate in physical activities, like gardening or walking the dog, live longer than those who lead a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, when the elderly exercise regularly their muscle strength and cardiopulmonary function improve as much as those much younger.
Understanding Senior Fitness and Exercise
So if increased activity levels are the key, is it worthwhile for the elderly to follow a structured exercise program? We believe that it is very important. Poor posture and faulty body mechanics practiced over many years often lead to degenerative musculoskeletal conditions. By evaluating an older person with this in mind, we can develop an individualized exercise program that may change bad habits. Often these bad habits lead to irreversible orthopedic conditions.
We must emphasize the importance of an individualized exercise program. As individuals get older, there is greater discrepancy in their physical abilities. This discrepancy may be one reason for a general lack of attention to senior fitness. Developing an individualized exercise program takes more time and attention. Standardized exercise programs are simply not sufficient.
General goals for the elderly are similar to that of the young. Joint flexibility, muscular strength and endurance along with cardiovascular fitness should be included within an individualized exercise program for a senior. Reduced joint mobility can be crippling, especially if due to an arthritic condition. In addition, it can significantly restrict the level of activity of the individual. Regular stretching exercises, however, may prevent the progression of joint inflexibility.
Understanding Senior Fitness and Accidents
According to studies, the major cause of death among the elderly is accidents. A lack of muscular strength that leads to an uncontrollable situation is often the cause. In addition, the elderly typically enjoy improved mobility simply by improving muscular strength. Often this muscular strength is enough to allow the elderly to perform many essential daily activities. Such activities often include simple things like getting up out of a chair.
It is worth noting that studies have shown that exercising aerobically at low levels of intensity (35 to 45 percent of maximum) provides sufficient training stimulus in the elderly to produce cardiovascular benefits similar to those who trained at higher levels of intensity (60 to 75 percent of maximum). This level of intensity, while providing cardiovascular benefits, is only advisable with approval from a physician since many of the elderly have cardiovascular conditions that require medication.
Thomas Suspenski, PT, ATC
797 E Lancaster Ave. Suite 2
Please refer to patient education for other brief articles in our educational series. It is through these articles, in part, that we keep our patients (and others) informed of common injuries and conditions, their treatment and healthcare in general.