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Physical activity

Physical activity declines and sedentary behavior increases with age. Physical function, mobility and the ability to perform activities of daily living also declines with age. Regular physical activity can assist in reversing the age-related decline in physical and psychological function.

Regular physical activity is one of the most important things we can do for our health. It can prevent many of the health problems that seem to come with age. It also helps your muscles grow stronger so you can keep doing your day-to-day activities without becoming dependent on others.

Keep in mind, not doing any physical activity can be bad for you, no matter your age or health condition. Some physical activity is better than none at all.

            The recommended amount of exercise for older adults is the same as that for adults aged 18 – 64 years — at least 150 min weekly (about 30 min 5 days a week) of moderate-intensity physical activity. However, most older adults do not come close to meeting these recommendations. An older adult’s motivation to participate in physical activity depends on a variety of personal attitudes, appropriate opportunities and broader environmental factors. There is also some evidence that older adults are not motivated to take part in strength and balance activities as a means of avoiding falls. Older adults will however undertake these activities if they know these activities will help to maintain their independence and allow them to remain engaged in activities that are integral to an active later life. Therefore effectively motivating  the elderly to physical activity  are absolutely necessary.


Individual motivation to participate in physical activity will depend on:

• a positive attitude to physical activity

• a belief in the benefits of physical activity

• feelings of confidence, success and achievement

• belief in one’s ability to be active (self-efficacy)

• activities that are consistent with personal goals, identity and lifestyle

• social support from friends, colleagues and family.


The consequences of inaction and sedentary behaviour

Evidence indicates physical activity levels among older adults 65+ years are low and sedentary behaviour increases with age. Many older adults spend ten hours or more each day sitting or lying down, making them the most sedentary population About half of the physical decline associated with ageing may be due to a lack of physical activity. Without regular exercise, people over the age of 50 years can experience a range of health problems including:

  • Reduced muscle mass, strength and physical endurance
  • Reduced bone strength
  • Reduced coordination and balance
  • Reduced joint flexibility and mobility
  • Reduced cardiovascular and respiratory function
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased body fat levels
  • Increased susceptibility to mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression
  • Increased risk of various diseases including cardiovascular, metabolic disease and stroke.

Benefits of physical activity for older adults

Older adults can benefit from regular physical activity. Physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits. Older adults can obtain significant health benefits with a moderate amount of physical activity, preferably daily. A moderate amount of activity can be obtained in longer sessions of moderately intense activities (such as walking) or in shorter sessions of more vigorous activities (such as fast walking). Health benefits can be gained through greater amounts of physical activity, either by increasing the duration, intensity, or frequency. Because risk of injury increases at high levels of physical activity, care should be taken not to engage in excessive amounts of activity.  Previously sedentary older adults who begin physical activity programs should start with short intervals of moderate physical  activity (5–10 minutes) and gradually build up to the desired amount.

According to the National Institute of Aging, exercise isn’t just for seniors in the younger age range. People who are 80, 90 or older can also benefit greatly from physical activity. Exercising regularly can help prevent or delay some diseases and disabilities as people age. In some cases, it can improve health and independence for older people who already have diseases and disabilities, if it’s done on a long-term, regular basis.

Some of the many benefits of regular exercise for older people include:

  • Bone – bone density begins to decline after the age of 40, but this loss accelerates around the age of 50 years. As a result of this bone loss, older people are more prone to bone fractures. Exercise may help to reduce the risk of bone loss and osteoporosis and improve balance and coordination, which can reduce the likelihood of falling. Weight-bearing exercise, in particular, helps to keep bones healthy and strong.
  • Muscle – the amount and size of muscle fibres decreases with age. Some studies suggest that the average body loses around 3kg of lean muscle every decade from middle age. The muscle fibres that seem to be most affected are those of the ‘fast twitch’ (phasic) variety, which govern strength and speedy contraction. There is evidence to suggest that these changes are related to a sedentary lifestyle, rather than age. Muscle mass can increase in the older person after regularly exercising for a relatively short period of time.
  • Joints – the joints of the body require regular movement to remain supple and healthy. In particular, people with arthritis can benefit from aerobic and strengthening exercise programs
  • Heart and lungs – moderate intensity exercise is most favourable: for example, exercising at about 70 per cent of the individual’s maximum heart rate (220 beats per minute minus your age). Studies show that cardiorespiratory fitness takes longer to achieve in an older person than a young person, but the physical benefits are similar. Regardless of age, people are able to improve their cardiorespiratory fitness through regular exercise.  Exercise is beneficial in reduces the risk of dying from coronary heart disease and of developing high blood pressure.
  • Body fat levels – carrying too much body fat has been associated with a range of diseases including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Regular exercise burns kilojoules, increases muscle mass and speeds the metabolism. Together, these physiological changes help an older person maintain an appropriate weight for their height and build.
  • Increase mental capacity - exercise increases blood flow to all parts of your body, including your brain, and might promote cell growth there. Exercise is beneficial in preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression and fosters improvements in mood and feelings of well-being
  • Prevent disease - exercise may delay or prevent many diseases associated with aging,  such as diabetes, colon cancer, heart disease, stroke, and others, and may reduce overall death and hospitalization rates, according to the National Institute of Aging.
  • Improve healing- injuries and wounds take longer to heal as people age. Regular exercise by older adults may speed up the wound-healing process by as much as 25 percent.

  • According to the American Academy of Family Physicians almost all older people can benefit from additional physical activity. Regular exercise protects from chronic disease, improves mood and lowers chances of injury.