Physical Activity Key To Keeping Older Adults Healthy

Cardiovascular and strengthening exercise helps reduce risk of disease, fall injuries

DAYTON, Ohio (June 19, 2013) – Regular exercise is one of the most important things an older adult can do for their health, but can be the first thing to go when the body begins experiencing the effects of aging.

Older adults often become more sedentary because of growing health concerns – such as weight gain or cataracts – or simply because their lifestyle has changed due to retirement. Unfortunately, what their body really needs to withstand the increasing health issues that can come with aging is routine activity, said Archie Enoch, MD, who practices at Fairfield Road Physician Offices in Beavercreek.

“You know the old saying, ‘If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it’? There is some truth to that,” said Dr. Enoch, a Premier HealthNet physician. “The more inactive (older adults) become, the more inactive their bodies will be so the goal is to stay as active as they can for the health condition that they are in.”

Regular exercise is vital for any person to reduce the risk of many chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar. Strengthening exercises also play an important role in keeping bones strong while helping older adults maintain good balance. Both help fight against diseases such as osteoporosis and may help in reducing the risk for falls.

“Perhaps the most important reason for an older adult to exercise is to reduce their risk of falling,” Dr. Enoch said. “Once an elderly person has fallen, their demise is pretty quick after that and many health complications can result from it.”

Each year, one in every three adults age 65 and older falls. Falls can cause moderate to severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head injuries, and can increase the risk of early death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The death rates from falls among older adults have risen sharply over the past decade. In 2009, about 20,400 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries, the CDC said. Even if falls are not fatal, they often create a fear in older patients that they may experience another fall resulting in decreased mobility and exercise, according to the CDC.

“It’s important that seniors have a proper perspective of exercise. Many may feel as if they need to be training for a marathon in order to be properly exercising, but that’s not true. Older adults should discuss with their primary care physician what type of exercise is right for them given their current health condition. For some, that may mean a daily walk or time spent out in their garden. For others, it may mean a Thai Chi class or bowling a couple of times a week,” Dr. Enoch said.

The CDC recommends that older adults get two and a half hours of exercise a week. Dr. Enoch said older adults should not be discouraged by that number, but rather start out slow and make it their goal to work up to that amount over time. A primary care physician can give guidance on how to do that and even refer patients to a physical therapist who can create an individualized plan, he added.

The good news is that older adults today seem to be more aware of the importance of exercise than in generations past. “There are also abundant choices for exercise – whether it is a swimming class at the local YMCA or a group exercise class at one’s church,” Dr. Enoch said. “Above all, older adults need to keep their bodies moving even if it means working through the mild aches that come with aging.”

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