The Elderly and Exercise

Exercising is widely accepted as one of the most effective ways to maintain a healthy body. A study conducted by the National Cancer Institute observed the amount of physical activity of 650,000 adults over the age of 40 and concluded that people who engage in regular exercise live an average of three to five years longer. Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, four in five Americans do not engage in the 150 minutes of recommended exercise each week, and over half of people aged 65 or older do not engage in any exercise at all.

These statistics are concerning, especially for the older generation, because exercise has been shown to mitigate the risk of various diseases like cardiovascular illnesses that arise as a person ages. Despite the known benefits of exercise, many elders still do not engage in it at all.

Older people often come up with reasons to avoid physical exercise, and this leads to common misconceptions. One is that exercise is dangerous for older people because it poses a risk for falling and hurts the joints. Another is that exercise is not good for people with chronic illnesses. Some people also believe that they are too old start exercising and that exercise won’t make a difference at their stage in life.

These misconceptions about physical exercise, however, have been dispelled by recent studies. A study published in 2006 by the Journals of Gerontology compared, over the span of 16 years, the health of adults in their early 60s who exercised regularly, who did not exercise, and who slowly increased their amount of exercise over the years. They found that the health of adults who exercised regularly and adults who increased their amount of exercise over the years were very similar. In contrast, they found that adults who did not exercise at all faced worse health outcomes. The study showed that starting to exercise later in life still does make a difference and that it is much better than no exercising at all.

What about the notion that exercise increases the risk of falling and joint pain? The reality is that exercise actually reduces the risk of falling because it strengthens the bones and muscles, especially in the legs. In addition, exercise also increases balance and coordination in older individuals. According to a recent study conducted in Physiotherapy Canada, 35% of adults over 65 and 50% of adults over 80 fall annually. The same study conducted research on exercise intervention and concluded that exercising does in fact reduce the risk of falling.

In addition to lowering the risk of falling, exercise reduces joint pain by strengthening the muscles around bones and relieving pressure from joints. Exercise is one of the best ways to help prevent degenerative arthritis, which is caused by the decay of cartilage around the bones. A study conducted in 2002 compared knee cartilage in patients who were an average of 39 years old who were immobilized from spinal injury with knee cartilage in healthy patients. After six months, researchers found that the cartilage in the immobilized individuals was substantially thinner than those of healthy individuals. This showed that cartilage degeneration was related to physical movement.

Overall, exercise is a significant preventative measure for older adults. By exercising, older people can reduce the risk of many illnesses like arthritis and cardiovascular diseases. Debunking the myths of exercise is vital for getting older people to exercise.

Mo Yin, a 93-year-old resident at Amistad House, a senior home in Berkeley, agrees. “Twenty years ago, I would go jogging around the neighborhood for 30 minutes a day,” said Yin. “Now, I don’t run because I need a walker when I want to go outside. My doctor recommends that I walk two rounds around the neighborhood each day. Exercise is very important for old people like me. If you don’t move around, it won’t be good for your health.”