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Exercise and aging

Continuing to exercise can help you stay healthy, energetic, and independent after you retire. Many elderly adults over 65 are largely immobile by day, spending hours sitting or lying down, making this age group the most sedentary. This inactivity comes at a price: more falls, obesity, heart disease, and early death compared with the general population.

With age, staying active becomes even more important, as immobility is associated with poor health and dependence on others. Elderly people with movement difficulties have difficulty playing with grandchildren, walking to the shops, and meeting friends, all of which combine to reduce their quality of life.

However, at an advanced age, activity does not necessarily equate to exercise. Anything that gets you moving is of benefit, whether it normally requires exertion (eg, recreational sport) or not (eg, walking or gardening). Try to do something every day, aiming for a weekly target of 2.5 hours or more. Short activity sessions are perfectly acceptable; the objective is movement, not extreme exercise that increases your heart rate too much.

Examples of adequate (moderate-intensity) aerobic activities for the elderly include:

  • fast walking
  • aqua-aerobics
  • riding a bike on level ground or lightly hilly terrain
  • playing doubles tennis
  • pushing a lawn mower

As well as dedicating time to actively exercising, focus on cutting back on time spent sitting down during the day. This doesn’t mean avoiding TV viewing, using your computer, driving, reading, talking, or listening to music altogether. It just means that you shouldn’t spend long static periods of time doing them; break things up a bit, in other words make yourself a cup of coffee, walk the dog, put on a wash, make a phone call, write a letter, etc. Then come back to what you were doing, if you want to. Whatever activity you choose to do, if you enjoy it then you’re off to a good start!