Seniors are getting more exercise and seeing real benefits

It’s no surprise that people who exercise regularly are in better health than those who don’t, but new evidence is emerging on just how beneficial physical activity can be. A report in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation showed that seniors who step up the amount of exercise they get can cut the risk of a heart attack by as much as 11 per cent.

Healthy heartbeats
Researchers found that people who increase duration or intensity of exercise as they age can improve their heart’s ability to pump more blood when it’s needed and reduce the occurrence of irregular heartbeats. Those two factors can cut down on the chance of dying from heart-related causes. No matter what level of exercise participants were getting at the beginning of the study, those who worked out longer or more strenuously had healthier hearts at the end.

“So if you feel comfortable with your usual physical activity, do not slow down as you get older – try to walk an extra block or walk at a faster pace,” Luisa Soares-Miranda, the study’s author, said.

Playing through the pain
Even active adults tend to cut back on the amount of exercise they get as they age. The Associated Press reported that arthritis and back pain are leading causes of reduced exercise among seniors. Though these conditions, and many others, can make it difficult or painful to stay active, working out regularly can help to alleviate their symptoms.

Despite its clear benefits, Andrea Cheville of the Mayo Clinic cautioned against launching into a fitness program without preparing. Seniors, especially if they are not already getting exercise, are more likely to injure themselves during a workout.

“Find ways to exercise that don’t exacerbate the pain,” Cheville said.

Biking, walking and swimming are recommended, since they put less stress on bones and joints than more strenuous activities.

Everyday exercises
Cindy McDermott of Y-USA told the AP that people over 50 are the fastest growing groups of YMCA members. She recommended building up to at least 30 minutes of daily exercise. Some of that can be incorporated into other activities, for example by standing on one foot while brushing your teeth, stretching regularly when you’ve been sitting still and walking as much as possible.

Exercises that mimic common activities or make common activities easier should also be used. McDermott suggested doing wall pushups and lifting your arms behind your head to work muscles used for opening doors, grooming and getting dressed.