Why physical activity benefits every area of our life, especially as we get older 🏊💪
Today, we know a lot about the need to be physically active as we get older. Regardless of health and physical abilities, older adults can really benefit by staying physically active. Even if you have difficulty standing or walking, you can still be active and benefit. In fact, in most cases, you have more to lose by not doing anything.
Physical activity benefits every area of your life
It makes you look and feel better. It:
- gives you more energy
- helps you sleep better
- helps you to relax
- helps you to meet people or catch up with friends
- is fun
- tones your body
- helps you stay on your feet and maintain your independence
It is good for your mind. It:
- reduces stress and anxiety
- improves concentration
- improves self-confidence
- reduces feelings of sadness
It is good for your body because it:
- helps to control:
- weight (and reduce body fat)
- blood pressure
- bone and joint problems (for example, arthritis)
- reduces the risk of:
- heart disease
- some cancers
- helps to manage pain
- helps to maintain and increase joint movement
- helps to prevent falls and injury
As you’ve probably noticed, the key word is you. The benefits you gain from physical activity will depend on your starting point and how regular you are with your physical activity. You’ll need to match your physical activity to your own needs and abilities. For example, some people can swim a few kilometers without thinking twice about it. For others, a slow walk to the corner and back is a big achievement. Physical activity is good for everybody and there are so many great ways to be active!
Why is physical Activity such a big deal?
Regular physical activity is important to the physical and mental health of almost everyone, including older adults. Being physically active can help you continue to do the things you enjoy and stay independent as you age. Regular physical activity over long periods of time can produce long-term health benefits. That’s why health experts say that older adults should be active every day to maintain their health.
In addition, regular physical activity can reduce the risk of diseases and disabilities that can develop as people grow older. In some cases, physical activity is an effective treatment for many chronic conditions. For example, studies show that people with arthritis, heart disease or diabetes benefit from regular activity. Physical activity also helps people who have high blood pressure, depression, balance problems or difficulty walking.
Regular physical activity can help reduce your risk of injury from falls.
One of the great things about physical activity is that there are so many ways to be active. For example, you can be active in short periods throughout the day or you can set aside specific times of the day to be active. Many physical activities — such as brisk walking, raking leaves or safely taking the stairs whenever you can — are free or low cost and do not require special equipment. You could also borrow an exercise video or DVD from the library, visit your local gym or see what physical activities are on at a senior citizens centre or local park.
The Queensland Government Ageing with vitality – Recommended exercises shows you many ways to be physically active, with example of exercises and steps to follow. View workbook exercises here.
What sort of physical activity should I be doing?
Four types of activity are needed to keep you healthy: strength, balance, flexibility and endurance. Although we describe them separately, some activities fit into several categories. For example, many endurance activities also help build strength, and strength exercises can help improve balance.
Even small increases in muscle strength can make a big difference in your ability to stay independent and carry out everyday activities such as; climbing stairs and carrying shopping bags. Some people call using weight to improve your muscle strength ‘strength training’ or ‘resistance training’. Strength exercises include:
- working with a resistance band (see page 6 in workbook exercises)
- working with weights (see page 6 in workbook)
- wall push-ups (see page 7 in workbook)
Activities to improve balance help prevent falls, a common problem in older adults. Many lower-body strength exercises will also improve your balance.
Exercises to improve your balance include:
Stretching can help your body stay flexible and limber, which gives you more freedom of movement for your regular physical activity as well as for your everyday activities. To increase your flexibility, try:
- shoulder and upper arm stretch (see page 35 in workbook)
- calf stretch (see page 42 in workbook)
- Tai Chi
Endurance or aerobic exercises increase your breathing and heart rate. These activities help to improve your fitness and do the tasks you need to do every day. Endurance exercises improve the health of your heart, lungs and circulatory system. They also delay or prevent many diseases that are common in older adults, such as; diabetes, colon and breast cancer and heart disease. Physical activities that build endurance include:
- brisk walking
- playing sport
- gardening (mowing, raking)
The health benefits of physical activity far outweigh any risks of injury. However, you can take precautions to be active safely. You may feel some
minor discomfort or muscle soreness when you start to exercise. This should go away as you get used to the activities. However, if you feel sick to your stomach or have strong pain, you’ve done too much. Go easier and then gradually build up.
Tips to avoid injury
- When starting to increase your physical activity, begin slowly with low-intensity activities
- Wait at least two hours after eating a large meal before doing strenuous physical activity
- Wear appropriate shoes for your activity and comfortable, loose-fitting clothing that allow you to move freely but won’t catch on objects
- Warm up with low-intensity exercises at the beginning of each physical activity session
- Drink water before, during and after your physical activity session (don’t wait until you are thirsty)
- When exercising outdoors, pay attention to your surroundings — consider possible traffic hazards, the weather and uneven walking surfaces
- Do some stretching exercises after your activity to help avoid muscle soreness and injury (see Chapter 4 for sample exercises)
Stop exercising if you:
- have pain or pressure in your chest, neck, arm or shoulder – these are possible early signs of a heart attack – tell someone and consider calling 000
- feel dizzy or sick to your stomach
- break out in a cold sweat
- have muscle cramps
- feel severe pain in joints, feet, ankles or legs
It is recommended that you talk with your doctor or health professional if you aren’t used to activity or are planning to significantly increase your physical activity. You should also talk with your doctor if you have any existing conditions or health problems. Your doctor or health professional can help you choose activities that are best for you and reduce any risks.
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