May 29, 2023

Physical Activity Helps Seniors Stay Healthy

Being physically active can prevent and help treat many of the most common chronic medical conditions associated with old age. Physical activity is one of the most important steps Senior Citizens can take to maintain physical and mental health and quality of life. Scientists have proven that being active can help reduce the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, stroke, depression, colon cancer, and premature death. Yet today, more than 60% of Senior Citizens are inactive. Senior Citizens face the same obstacles to being more physically active as younger adults but also have special concerns.

The Challenge to Get Moving

Getting Senior Citizens to be active is a challenge. The average American lives a long time, but many are sedentary, physically unfit, and experience disability from chronic medical conditions as they age. Physicians and exercise experts hear many reasons from Senior Citizens as to why they are not active: It doesn't feel good. It makes my arthritic joints hurt. It takes too much time. It's boring. However, Senior Citizens need physical activity like everyone else, at least as much as younger adults. In fact, the loss of strength and stamina often attributed to aging is in part caused by reduced physical activity.

Walking groups and physical activity programs especially designed for older adults can help seniors become—and remain active. For example, senior swim clubs and water aerobic classes are excellent activities for people with arthritis.

The Need for Strength

Strength training is recommended for all adults, but it is a vital link to health for Senior Citizens. The reason is that strength training prevents sarcopenia, the muscle deterioration that comes with aging, and also helps maintain bone mass. "Stronger people have better health outcomes," noted Dr. David Buchner, Chief of CDC’s Physical Activity and Health Branch and renowned Gerontologist. However, some elderly people avoid physical activity and become sedentary out of fear of falling and fracturing a bone. Dr. Buchner added that emerging data indicate that physical activity can prevent falls by improving strength, balance, and endurance.

Keeping Young at Heart

Aerobic activity (also known as cardiorespiratory or cardiovascular endurance activity) is also important. It keeps the heart strong, lowers blood pressure, and relieves anxiety and depression. Senior Citizens can obtain significant health benefits with moderate physical activity, such as walking or gardening.

"We need to make physical activity part of the daily routine for older adults," said Dr. Buchner. Health clubs also provide Senior Citizens with a variety of opportunities to improve their aerobic fitness, muscular strength, and flexibility. Dr. Buchner adds, "Traditionally health and fitness facilities have marketed mainly to body-conscious younger adults, who focus on the cosmetic effects. It's great to see that health clubs have developed more programs for Senior Citizens, and we hope this trend continues."

*The above information was adapted from: CDC, NCCDPHP. Special focus: healthy aging. Chronic Disease Notes and Reports 1999;12(3):10-11.