Exercise for Seniors: Benefits, Risks, and How To Begin
Determining Your Abilities and Risks
People who are experiencing difficulties with daily activities will generally need to have special exercise counseling To determine your current physical activity capacity, doctors will often ask the following questions:
How much difficulty do you have…
- Walking ½ mile (1 km)?
- Climbing 10 steps?
- Lifting 4.5 kg (10 lbs)
- Reaching for objects?
(None, a little, moderate, a lot, can’t do at all)
To determine your fall risk, doctors should ask a variety of questions such as your recent fall history and their circumstances. He or she should also determine your visual acuity, inquire into what medications you’re taking and any medical conditions that could contribute to falls, and do a careful neuromuscular examination. Your doctor should also test your leg strength, gait, and balance. For example, he or she may ask you to stand up from a chair without using your hands to push off, to walk a short distance, turn, and walk back, and sit down. Using a range of tools, questions, and simple physical tests, your doctor can determine how mobile you are as well as your risk of falling, and, therefore, be able to help design an appropriate program.
A Word About Risk
There are certain risks associated with beginning exercise programs, depending on your heath status, age, weight, and other factors. You need to find a program that fits your current fitness level and your health. Your doctor can help you determine what a good level of activity will be; or he or she can refer you to a specialist or physical therapist to help design an appropriate plan. The risk for injuries appears to be fairly low if exercise routines are matched to the individual.
The brief Exercise and Screening for You (EASY) questionnaire has been developed for older people who are considering exercise. EASY helps seniors recognize health problems that could increase the risk of harm from increased physical activity and encourages those at risk to consult a physician prior to beginning an exercise regimen. For patients with symptomatic or significant coronary heart disease, heart failure or pulmonary disease, highly structured cardiac rehabilitation programs, where training is custom-tailored to your needs, can be very helpful. Enrolment in these programs generally requires a formal referral from a doctor.
What Are You Waiting For?
Staying active and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle have great potential for improving physical performance, preventing and delaying disability, preventing falls, improving blood sugar, slowing (and possibly preventing) cognitive decline, reducing disability and pain from knee osteoarthritis, and even prolonging life. Choosing activities that will work best for you given your particular needs, and talking to your doctor if you are unsure of what these might be, is important Make sure to choose activities that you actually enjoy doing, since you’ll be much more likely to stick with them if they are fun, rather than seen as an unappealing chore that must be done. And exercising with others, either as part of a formal program or with your neighbors and friends, can add to the enjoyment of becoming physically active. Remember, it’s never too late: beginning an exercise routine even in your golden years has been shown to offer significant health benefits, mental and physical. So get started (safely), and enjoy!
Extract from article by Calvin H. Hirsch, M.D.