It’s a common assumption that exercise in older people is difficult and dangerous, so it may be best to avoid it. But this is often not the case – even though these ideas are entrenched in society. Research has repeatedly shown that exercise in older adults is linked to lower risk of disease, reduced risk of fallingand better overall health.
But misconceptions about age and exercise still exist — and it’s not hard to see why. Exercise recommendations, even from health authorities, are often age based. But if you look closely, you’ll notice that these recommendations are often the same as those for younger kids, with the differences being in the capacity assumptions.
Indeed, it is true that as we age we lose muscle strength, bone density and body composition. goes from muscle to fat. However, research shows that physical training at any age leads to positive gains in muscular massmuscle strength, bone density and improvements overall health – even in people aged 97.
When deciding what type of exercise to do, your ability — not your age — should be your primary consideration. Older people are more likely to have one or more age-related diseases or health conditions (such as type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, heart disease, and stroke) that can affect their ability to exercise. But the risk and recovery from these conditions are all positively influenced by daily exercise. Even the symptoms of arthritis can be reduced by low impact movements.
Ability, not age
So what type of exercise should you do? Training requirement based on a person’s age is too simplistic because people can be very different from each other. For example, I have met both frail 65-year-olds and others who can get ahead of me on the track. The exercise prescription should be made by ability. And, whichever mode you choose, remember that it should always challenge you.
Maintaining a high level of low-intensity activity (such as walking, jogging, or cycling) is a lifestyle choice correlated with longevity. Since almost 50% of UK adults do not meet minimum activity guidelines, this is an immediate positive impact people can have on their fitness and health, both through the benefits of being active and by offsetting the negative health effects to be sedentary.
Simply moving more is a great way to stay in shape and general health. For example, standing during every commercial break while watching TV, walking to the stores instead of driving, or taking the stairs are great ways to increase activity.
However, other types of workouts may also have similar benefits for older adults. High-intensity interval training (HIIT), which involves training at (or near) 100% effort for short periods followed by rest, is a popular form of aerobic training. While HIIT training is often assumed to be reserved for athletes or young people, our research shows that HIIT training in both in older men and pre-diabetic elderly men and women, is beneficial to overall health. It should be noted that we used stationary bikes for safety reasons, as an intense session of HIIT exercises can make people of all ages feel a bit weak.
Resistance training, or exercises that require your maximum strength, are also a great option for people of all ages. Not only will many older people be able to perform resistance training, they will also benefit greatly – with studies showing strength and resistance training improves bone density, muscular massand physical capacity.
Resistance training also doesn’t need to involve heavy weights in a gym, but as a general rule the movement should be difficult and close to the limit of your strength if repeated about ten times . For example, performing a chair squat (rising up from a seated position repeatedly) can be made more difficult by holding weights, cans, or even a bottle of milk. It can be made even more difficult by balancing on one leg when standing up.
While older people are likely to gain muscle mass and strength through exercise, it becomes more difficult to build muscle tissue as you age. Even elite athletes, who maintain high levels of training throughout their lives, see drop in performance as they age.
But fitness isn’t the only positive change from exercise. Exercise is also shown for improve mental health, well-being and cognitive function, as well as improved bone density and longer lifespan. Improved bone density due to weightlifting can also minimize injuries if an elderly person falls.
Balance is also an important skill at any age – and this skill can be trained. A better balance can prevent falls or injuries from falls in the elderly. Activities such as yoga or tai chi can improve balance. But even something as simple as standing on one leg while putting on your socks can challenge your balance.
A great combination of strength and balance exercises are “asymmetrical exercises” which involve moving only one side of the body at a time. It can be as simple as balancing on one foot while moving the other leg back and forth, or using one arm at a time to perform a lifting or throwing motion challenge and improve balance.
In short, the best kind of exercise – whatever your age – has already been described by the NHS. Aim to be physically active daily, do activities that improve strength, flexibility, and balance at least two days a week, do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week, and reduce the time spent sitting or lying down. And no matter your age or ability, do exercises that continue to challenge you.