Physical Activity for Healthy Aging
by Larry D. Jones, MPH, Health Director
July 25, 2011
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an older adult, regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your 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.
Not doing any physical activity can be bad for you, no matter your age or health condition. Keep in mind, some physical activity is better than none at all. Your health benefits will also increase with the more physical activity that you do.
Older adults should do 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
How do you know if you're doing moderate or vigorous aerobic activity?
On a 10-point scale, where sitting is 0 and working as hard as you can is 10, moderate-intensity aerobic activity is a 5 or 6. It will make you breathe harder and your heart beat faster. You'll also notice that you'll be able to talk, but not sing the words to your favorite song.
Vigorous-intensity activity is a 7 or 8 on this scale. Your heart rate will increase quite a bit and you'll be breathing hard enough so that you won't be able to say more than a few words without stopping to catch your breath.
You can do moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or a mix of the two each week. Intensity is how hard your body is working during aerobic activity. A rule of thumb is that one minute of vigorous-intensity activity is about the same as two minutes of moderate-intensity activity.
Everyone's fitness level is different. This means that walking may feel like a moderately intense activity to you, but for others, it may feel vigorous. It all depends on you – the shape you're in, what you feel comfortable doing, and your health condition. What's important is that you do physical activities that are right for you and your abilities.
What Counts for Strengthening
There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles, whether it's at home or the gym. The activities you choose should work all the major muscle groups of your body (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms). You may want to try:
Working with resistance bands
Doing exercises that use your body weight for resistance (push ups, sit ups)
Heavy gardening (digging, shoveling)
10 minutes at a time is fine
We know 150 minutes each week sounds like a lot of time, but it's not. That's 2 hours and 30 minutes, about the same amount of time you might spend watching a movie. The good news is that you can spread your activity out during the week, so you don't have to do it all at once. You can even break it up into smaller chunks of time during the day. It's about what works best for you, as long as you're doing physical activity at a moderate or vigorous effort for at least 10 minutes at a time.
Information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention