from the AICR Newsletter #116, Summer 2012
Being Active Is Key to Healthy Aging
If you believe what you see, you might think that becoming less physically active is inevitable with age. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
While national surveys consistently show that older adults (i.e., people 65+ years old) are the least active age group among Americans, research suggests that maintaining a physically active lifestyle as we age is one of the most important things we must and can do to maintain both our physical and mental health.
What’s So Special about Physical Activity?
Regular physical activity is essential for healthy aging. Not only does it help to combat several of the physical changes that come with age, such as loss of muscle mass and bone density, it also improves the overall quality of life for older adults, including:
- Improved functional health and the maintenance of an independent lifestyle.
- Increased mental alertness.
- Increased social contact.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Service’s (HHS) Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, all older adults should avoid inactivity. Some activity is better than none; older adults who participate in any amount of activity gain some health benefits.
In general, physical activity recommendations do not change based on age; both HHS and the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) call for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every day for all adults. Muscle strengthening (e.g., weight training, yoga, calisthenics) and balance activities are also important to include 2-3 times each week.
Knowing where to start with physical activity routine depends on what you’ve been doing and how ready you are to make changes.
If you haven’t been active at all, start small and build on your success. Strive to move just a little more every day as you work toward AICR’s recommendation to be active for at least 30 minutes every day. Here are some thoughts on how you might get started:
- Skip the elevator and take the stairs when you can.
- Join a weekly dance class at your local senior center.
- Set an alarm in your house to go off periodically during the day as a reminder to stop sitting and move for a few minutes.
If you’re already active, add some variety to your routine. Aim to include aerobic, strength, and balance training in your routine every week. Consider:
- Picking up the pace for 30 seconds every few minutes during your usual activity.
- Trying a yoga or tai-chi workout at the gym or on YouTube.
- Do a series of calisthenic exercises during the commercials while watching your favorite TV program.
For more information and descriptions of specific exercises, check out the National Institutes on Aging.
Always keep in mind that the most important thing is to move whenever you can. Some activity is always better than none.
A Super Easy Exercise: Wall Push-Up
- Face a wall, standing a little farther than arm's length away, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lean your body forward and put your palms flat against the wall at shoulder height and shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly breathe in as you bend your elbows and lower your upper body toward the wall in a slow, controlled motion. Keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Hold the position for 1 second.
- Breathe out and slowly push yourself back until your arms are straight.
- Repeat 10-15 times.
- Rest; then repeat 10-15 more times.
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