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Benefits of Physical Activity in Older Adults

Staying active and exercising is important for more reasons that just your physical body. It also helps your emotional and mental health. As we age, many times inactivity is more to blame than age when older people lose the ability to do things. Regular physical activity produces long-term health benefits. When you stay physically active, you will:

  • Keep and improve your strength so you can stay as independent as possible

  • Have more energy to do the things you want to do and reduce fatigue

  • Improve your balance, lower risk of falls, and lesson injuries from falls

  • Manage and prevent some diseases like arthritis, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and some types of cancer, including breast and colon cancer

  • Perk up your mood and reduce feelings of depression

  • Sleep better at night

  • Reduce levels of stress and anxiety

  • Lose weight or reduce weight gain when combined with reduced calorie intake

  • Control your blood pressure

  • Possibly improve or maintain some aspects of cognitive function, such as your ability to shift quickly between tasks or plan an activity

It is important to get more than one type of exercise. Having a balance of endurance, strength, balance and flexibility not only gives you different benefits, but also reduces boredom and risk of injury.

Endurance or aerobic activities could include brisk walking, yard work, dancing, aerobic classes, jogging, swimming, biking, climbing stairs or hills, playing tennis or basketball. Always listen to your body; endurance activities should not cause pain like dizziness, chest pain or pressure, or a feeling like heartburn.

Strength exercises could include lifting weights or using resistance bands. Always do strength exercises in a slow, controlled manner and don't hold your breath.

Balance exercises can include tai chi or yoga classes or simple lower-body strength exercises. One simple exercise to start with is standing on one foot, then the other. If at first you need support, hold onto something sturdy like the back of a chair. Work your way up to balancing without support.

Flexibility exercises like stretching will enable you to move more freely. Always stretch when your muscles are already warmed up, like after endurance or strength exercises. Do not stretch so far that it hurts and always remember to breathe.

How much activity do you need? According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, you should do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity like brisk walking or dancing. You should also do strength building exercises at least 2 days a week. If that sounds overwhelming, remember the most important thing is do what you can. Even 5 minutes of physical activity has a lot of health benefits. Gradually work your way up.

**Remember to always consult with your doctor if you are unsure about a particular exercise. They can give you recommendations based on your health.

Don't know where to start? Check out your local YMCA for senior classes and specials. The National Institute on Aging has many good resources, including workout videos and tips.

*Source: National Institute on Aging: Get Fit for Life


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