Exercise and Physical Activity in an Aging Population

Exercise and Physical Activity in an Aging Population

By Karie Wilson, Doctor of Physical Therapy

Like most people, you’ve probably heard that physical activity, including exercise, is good for you. However, many people fear exercise, especially when they get older, believing it will cause pain or injuries. There are many different ways to be physically active and exercise; you just have to find what works the best for you.

So why is physical activity so important? Being physically active can help you continue to do the things you enjoy and stay independent as you age. Regular physical activity over long periods of time can produce long-term health benefits.

Regular exercise and physical activity can reduce the risk of developing some diseases and disabilities that develop as people grow older. Now don’t worry if you already have health problems, exercise can still help you. Exercise can play an important role in the treatment of many chronic conditions such as: arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

As a physical therapist, it is my job to get people to be physically active. Many people are afraid of movement because they think it will cause pain, cause them to fall, or just wipe out their energy. I will tell you for a fact that remaining inactive will result in worse consequences.

Sure, when you are first beginning an exercise program you may have some discomfort, muscle soreness and fatigue; however these are only temporary side effects. Once you get your body used to being physically active you will start to feel better, have more energy, and hopefully be able to do more of the things you enjoy.

It is important when starting an exercise program that you perform activities that are safe and appropriate for your ability level. A physical therapist can be extremely helpful if you are afraid, have an existing injury or condition, or don’t know where to start. Physical therapists evaluate your current abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. A good physical therapist will design an exercise and/or treatment program that will strengthen target areas and allow you to progress to an independent exercise routine.Physical activity and exercise can take on many different forms.

The definition of physical activity is “any voluntary movements that burn calories.” This means that gardening; walking the dog, raking leaves, and walking the mall are all types of physical activity and are beneficial to your health.

Now, exercise usually refers to specifically planned and structured physical activity such as weight training, yoga, tai chi, aerobics etc. There are many exercise classes available that are designed for older adults such as silver sneakers, seated yoga, and water aerobics. There are many resources online to find and research these classes.

The good news too is that many insurance companies are beginning to pay for these types of classes as they realize the health benefits, which in turn saves them money from not having to pay for other medical services.

The bottom line is that there are many different ways to be physically active; you just have to find what works best for you. Find something that you enjoy doing and include it in your regular routine. Try to increase your level of activity over time.

Below are some resources to help you begin your journey to becoming physically active. Be sure to consult your physician and/or a physical therapist prior to starting any exercise routine.

www.nia.nih.gov/Go4Lifewww.silversneakers.com

https://nihseniorhealth.govwww.cdc.gov