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New Physical Activity Guidelines for Seniors

Healthnotes Newswire (October 4, 2007)—The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association have released new physical activity guidelines for adults 65 years and older, and adults 50 to 64 with chronic medical conditions. The guidelines are similar to the new recommendations for healthy adults below age 65 but in addition emphasize the importance of maintaining flexibility and balance and creating an exercise plan.

Healthy activity for all adults

• Moderate intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for 30 minutes five days per week, or vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity, such as jogging, for 20 minutes three days per week.

• Muscle strengthening activity, such as weight training, a minimum of two nonconsecutive days per week, which should include 8 to10 exercises repeated 8 to12 times.

Healthy activity for seniors with medical conditions and those over 65

• Engage in activities that maintain or increase flexibility on at least two days of the week for at least 10 minutes each day.

• Perform exercises that maintain or improve balance in order to reduce the risk of injury from falls.

• Create a physical activity action plan, which should include the types of activity the person will perform and how, when, and where the activity will take place.

Miriam Wilson, PhD, lead author of the guidelines and the director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and her colleagues, noted that, if people cannot perform the minimum recommended levels of activity as stated in the guidelines, they should engage in regular physical activity according to their abilities and conditions in order to avoid inactivity.

The authors added that, given the varying fitness levels of older adults and those with chronic conditions, a slow walk may be considered moderate intensity for some but vigorous for others depending on their ability. They recommend that the activity plan include a gradual approach to increase levels of physical activity if possible.

Regularity is the key

Regular exercise reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and other diseases. In addition, “there is substantial evidence that physical activity reduces the risks of falls and injuries from falls, prevents or mitigates functional limitations, and is effective therapy for many chronic conditions,” the authors noted. “Given the breadth and strength of the evidence, physical activity should be one of the highest priorities for preventing and treating disease and disablement in older adults.”

Older Americans are the least physically active of any age group and generate the highest expenditures of healthcare, according to the authors. Regular physical activity may improve older adults’ health, prevent disease, and lower healthcare expenditures. The bottom line for older adults is to reduce sedentary behavior, increase moderate activity, and take a gradual or stepwise approach to exercise.

People beginning an exercise program should create a plan with their doctor or other healthcare professional. Possible exercises that have been shown to be beneficial to seniors include walking, stretching, and tai chi.

(Med Sci Sports Exerc 2007;39:1435-45)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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