Senior Exercise

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Senior Exercise Overview

George Burns (who lived to be 100) used to say, "If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!" It's true that some individuals are blessed with good genes, and no matter how many unhealthy lifestyle habits they have, they're going to live into old age. But for the rest of us who might be concerned with quality of life as we age, exercise is one of the keys. Is it ever too late to start? Research proves it's not. In this article, I'll discuss the benefits of exercising into old age and then give you some tips on how to get started no matter how old you are.

The aging population

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, by the year 2030, the number of individuals in the United States 65 years and over will reach 70 million, and people 85 years and older will be the fastest growing segment of the population. Some of you may already be there, while others may be approaching. But whatever your age, exercise can help. Below is a description of what happens to our bodies as we age and how exercise can make all the difference.

What happens to muscles as we age?

As many of us have already noticed, muscle mass decreases as we age. Beginning in the fourth decade of life, adults lose 3%-5% of muscle mass per decade, and the decline increases to 1%-2% per year after age 50. Muscle keeps us strong, it burns calories and helps us maintain our weight, and it is also an essential contributor to our balance and bone strength. Without it, we can lose our independence and our mobility.

Is it ever too late to build muscle?

The good news is that muscle mass can increase at any age in response to exercise. In an important study of weight lifting and older adults conducted with 100 male and female residents of a nursing home in Boston (age range: 72 to 98 years of age; average age 87), subjects lifted weights with their legs three times a week for 10 weeks. At the end of the study, there was an increase in thigh mass of 2.7%, walking speed increased 12%, and leg strength increased a whopping 113%! In a similar study of adults 65-79 years old, subjects who lifted weights three times a week for three months increased their walking endurance by 38% (from 25 minutes to 34 minutes) without appreciable increases in mass. Ida Weiss, a 91-year-old participant in the Boston study, had the following to say after the study, "It's very beneficial for me. Things that I couldn't do when I came here, I can do now. I didn't think that I was going to live anymore, but I feel different now."

Exercise can be invigorating and help build muscle mass at any age.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/24/2014

Read about the benefits of senior exercise.

Over 65 -- More Exercise, Less Broken Hips

Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

ATLANTA -- Among older people, osteoporosisis a common disorder. It is characterized by fragile bones due to reduced bone mass (density). The fragile bones tend to fracture.

Research has found that bone mass can be increased in older women by physical activity. To determine whether physical activity can actually reduce the risk for broken hips, a large multicenter study was done. Nearly 10,000 women over 65 years of age were evaluated. The results of this important prospective (forward looking) study appeared in the July 15,1998 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Dr. Edward W. Gregg of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and his colleagues at medical centers throughout the United States studied the women for an average of 7.6 years and found that higher levels of leisure time, sport activity, and heavy household chores and fewer hours of sitting daily were associated with a significantly reduced risk of broken (fractured) hip bones.

Further, Dr. Gregg's group found that women who were very active and engaged in activities such as tennis or aerobic dance had the greatest (36%) reduction in hip fractures. Moreover, women who did lower-intensity activities such as walking, gardening, or social dancing for at least an hour a week also had significant reduction of risk for hip fractures.