60 percent of aging adults are not active and yet, as little as 30 minutes
moderate activity (cardio) 5 days a week can greatly reduce the diseases and
disorders of aging. Following is from the N.I.H. newsletter:
Being physically active can prevent many of the most common chronic medical conditions of old age. As the baby boomers age, millions of older adults will begin suffering from chronic diseases unless preventive measures are taken. Physical activity is one of the most important steps older adults 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 older adults are inactive. Older adults face the same obstacles to being more physically active as younger adults but also have special concerns.
The Challenge to Get Moving
The challenge is getting older adults to be active. The average American lives a long time, but is sedentary, physically unfit, and experiences disability from chronic medical conditions as he/she ages. Physicians and exercise experts have heard all the excuses from older adults: It doesn't feel good. It makes my arthritic joints hurt. It takes too much time. It's boring. However, older adults need exercise like everyone else, at least as much as younger adults. In fact, the loss of strength and stamina attributed to aging is in part caused by reduced physical activity.
Walking groups and exercise programs especially designed for older adults can help seniors become-and remain-active. Senior swim clubs and water aerobic classes are excellent activities for people with arthritis, but you don't see advertisements for these on television or in magazines. "Good role models are effective and important, but they're not in the media-they're in real life," according to Marian Minor, PhD, PT, associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Missouri, where she works with seniors in the University of Missouri's physical therapy program.
The Need for Strength
Strength training is recommended for all adults, but it is a vital link to health for older adults. 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," Dr. Buchner noted.
However, some elderly people avoid exercise and become sedentary out of fear of falling and fracturing a bone. Joking that "it's well-documented that you have to be moving to fall and break a hip," Dr. Buchner added that emerging data indicate physical activity prevents falls by improving strength, balance, and endurance.
Keeping Young at Heart
Cardiorespiratory endurance (aerobic) activity is also important. It keeps the heart strong, lowers blood pressure, and relieves anxiety and depression. Older adults can obtain significant health benefits with moderate physical activity, such as walking or gardening provides.
We need to make physical activity part of the daily routine for older adults," said Dr. Buchner. "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 older adults, 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.
The CDC/ACSM recommends that all adults should accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on five or more days of the week.
Update: the Surgeon General's report of 2004 suggested that 60 minutes of intentional cardio exercise most days was required to affect weight although less exercise even as little as 40 minutes three times a week can reduce health risks.