Until recently, it was simply accepted that we become frail and lose muscle mass as we age. However, recent studies which looked at athletes in their 70’s and 80’s found that they had similar muscle mass as athletes in their 40’s. It is now widely accepted significant muscle mass loss is more likely to be caused by inactivity and lack of exercise as we grow older.
The Elderly And Balance
As we age, our balance can be challenged due to a decrease in our senses including vision, touch and proprioception. This can increase the risk of falls which can have a detrimental effect on health by causing injury, fractures or brain injuries.
Approximately 1/3 of people over 65 will fall each year in New Zealand. Exercise, therefore, should be viewed as a necessity in older age, to improve balance, co-ordination, and bone density and to maintain muscle mass and function. And it is never too late to begin exercising!
Take a look at the video below which shows seniors in Australia lifting weights to improve bone and muscle mass.
Top 5 Benefits Of Exercising For The Elderly
Advice from health experts state that regular exercise for the elderly offers many great benefits, take a look below for the top 5 benefits of exercising for the elderly.
1. Reduced Risk Of A Number Of Health Conditions
Studies have shown common conditions associated with aging such as arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes all benefit from regular activity. As well as aiding in the management of high cholesterol reducing the risks of heart disease and stroke. Immune system function is also improved with exercise.
2. Decreased Likelihood Of Falls
Inactivity increases the likelihood of weakness and poor balance in the elderly. Improving muscle strength, co-ordination and flexibility can also improve balance reducing the risk of falls. According to the World Health Organisation “regular exercise can reduce the risk of having a hip fracture by 40%”.
3. Better Sleep, Wellbeing And Quality Of Life
Regular cardiovascular exercise (anything that raises the heart rate), which could include things like brisk walking, cycling or even housework (vacuuming, cleaning etc) increases blood flow around the body and to the heart resulting in a boost in overall wellbeing, better sleep and ultimately better overall health.
4. Increased Levels Of Social Interaction
Loneliness and isolation can go hand in hand with reduce mobility and aging. Combining regular exercise with socialising – by joining a local walking group for example – results in increased fitness, confidence, and mood, while avoiding feelings of loneliness and depression.
5. Increased Lifespan
Musculoskeletal disorders are the leading cause of disability in New Zealand. With lower levels of physical activity, obesity and an aging population, their impact will only increase. Even gentle, regular exercise such as walking or swimming can decrease their effect and increase life expectancy.
Ministry Of Health Recommendations
According to New Zealand’s Ministry of Health guidelines, physical activity for the elderly (people aged 65 years and over) should be in line with the following recommendations. With the expectation that these recommendations are adjusted according to the individual’s needs and abilities, along with the assumption that any exercise regime is introduced and increased slowly, after consultation with an appropriate healthcare practitioner.
Moderate aerobic activity five days per week for at least 30 minutes
Flexibility and balance activities at least three times a week
Muscle strengthening activities twice per week
Exercise Programmes For The Elderly
Exercise programmes for older people should consist of strengthening, mobility, balance training and aerobic activity. Some elderly people are afraid that they will injure themselves exercising, so they should always seek advice from their Osteopath, or GP if they have any concerns. Exercise programmes should always be tailored to the abilities and goals, while being of appropriate intensity and duration so as to achieve maximum benefit.
Some examples of suitable activities for older people (according to the Ministry of Health guidelines) are:
Aerobic. Cycling, housework, brisk walking, golf, swimming or aqua jogging.
Strengthening. Hill walking, carrying shopping, knee lifts, modified Tai Chi, climbing stairs, weight training.
Mobility/Flexibility. Gardening, bowls, Pilates, stretching, yoga, modified Tai Chi.
Balance. Social dancing, yoga, Pilates, golf, standing on one leg.
Preparation For Exercising
Often people avoid exercise due to pain or the thought of injury. Many people often accept that pain is part of aging when really this should not be the case. In order to prepare for an exercise programme, a visit to your local osteopath would be highly recommended so that all aches and pains can be eased, and any injuries can be addressed prior to exercising.
Chronic exercise preserves lean muscle mass in masters athletes. 2011. Wroblewski AP1, Amati F, Smiley MA, Goodpaster B, Wright V. Phys Sportsmed. Sep; 39(3):172-8. doi: 10.3810/psm.2011.09.1933.
Keeping older muscle “young” through dietary protein and physical activity. 2014. Moore, D.R. Adv Nutr. 2014 Sep; 5(5):599S-607S.
Skeletal muscle protein balance and metabolism in the elderly. 2011. Fry, C.S. and Rasmussen, B.B. Curr Aging Sci. Dec; 4(3):260-8.
Lorraine Herity is the Clinic Director of Better Health Osteopathy in Christchurch, New Zealand. She previously worked in Osteopathic clinics in London and Ireland, before moving to New Zealand. Lorraine trained at the British School of Osteopathy in London, where she gained her Master of Osteopathy (M.Ost). Lorraine is a dedicated and passionate Osteopath. Her main aim is to help her patients regain their health, and to return her patients back to their everyday activities, in as quick a time as possible.