Exercise is a challenge for everyone. Including it in your weekly or even daily routine is not easy at first. It is a personal journey that takes place gradually, at a pace that suits you. The more active you are, the healthier and fitter you become, which is just as important for the youth as it is for the elderly. Aerobic, flexibility, balance and strength training exercises are the keys to better health and independence in the elderly. So it would be logical to think that getting as much exercise as possible is the solution to avoid any health problems that may come with age. Still, too much of a good thing is like not enough. Injuries from overtraining (and the exhaustion that results from it) happen. These wounds, not only bulky, take much longer to heal in older people than in younger people. So we want to avoid them!
Working out too much, is it possible?
It is possible to over train to the point of developing injuries or even health problems. We are not invincible! When you exercise, you need to be alert to the signals your body is sending you. If it tells you to stop, listen to it. It is the one that knows its true physical limits. Of course, don't stop as soon as you get a little out of breath, but don't forget the purpose of the session, which is to stay in shape!
Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for during your workouts that may indicate that you are pushing your body too far:
You don't experience the energizing benefits of physical activity, but rather feel exhausted from your workout. Fatigue is the most common symptom of overtraining.
You may feel that you need longer periods of rest between exercise sessions.
You have difficulty sleeping and you feel irritable.
Persistence of muscle pain. You never stop aching all over for days at a time.
You injure yourself more easily and more frequently (overuse injuries).
How to avoid overtraining?
In order to achieve optimal physical and mental health at an older age, it is recommended to exercise at a moderate intensity. For example: a brisk walk, cycling, dancing, hiking, tennis, etc. When practicing an activity of moderate intensity, you have enough breath to easily converse with your training partner, but not enough to maintain a long conversation. The intensity is often enough to get your heart rate up, and thus improve your cardiovascular health (which is what we want!).
However, older people who exercise at such intensity should take precautions to avoid some of the negative impacts overtraining would have on their health. Here are some of those precautions:
Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions (especially if you are known to have heart problems or other chronic conditions).
As easy as it sounds, drink water! Stay hydrated before, during and after your workout. We want to avoid dehydration.
Go slowly and gradually during your workouts. The goal is not to exhaust yourself completely to the point of not being able to continue with your daily activities… Follow your own pace!
Start with less intense workouts, then gradually increase the intensity as you go depending on your ability. Over time, you will be able to undertake higher intensity activities.
Know your limits and listen to your body. Do you experience dizziness, chest pain, or palpitations during exercise? If so, now is the time to stop!
Train with a friend! This will help you stay motivated while being more secure.
How can I know how much physical activity I need?
This is something that is unique to each individual. However, a certain minimum amount of physical activity is required in order to experience the benefits. In fact, it is recommended that the elderly participate in 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. In addition to this activity, it is suggested that you incorporate some strength, balance and flexibility exercises into your weekly routine. That being said, no matter your age, physical activity should be done in moderation.
If any health condition is preventing you from reaching those 150 minutes of exercise, be as active as possible according to your ability. Keep in mind that the more active you are (while still maintaining a certain balance) the better!
Have a safe workout!
How Much exercise is too much for seniors? (2019, May 14). Elmcroft Senior Living. https://www.elmcroft.com/blog/2019/may/how-much-exercise-is-too-much-for-seniors/
Physical Activity and Your Heart. (2013, November 8). National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/physical-activity-and-your-heart
Manuels Merck. (2018b, July). Exercice chez les personnes âgées. Édition Professionnelle Du Manuel MSD. https://www.merckmanuals.com/fr-ca/professional/sujets-spéciaux/exercice/exercice-chez-les-personnes-âgées