The Benefits of Different Exercise Activities on the Elderly

This short paper will try to go through a range of different types of physical activities and explain what are the specific benefits that each one of them bring to the table. This way, next time you do a training program or perform any sort of physical activity, you will be able to better tell what the benefits are. I hope this will further motivate you to exercise and reap the benefits. The STRIVE program incorporated some of these exercises in order to prevent falls; however, it may not address every single type of exercises, but they are still very important for your health. This text will show all the different types of exercise so that your workout regimen is well-balanced and complete.


Please note that this short paper is based on a lengthier and more detailed research paper (see Cited Works section) which I tried to simplify and summarize.

The main categories of exercises we will discuss today are the following: aerobic/endurance, resistance/strengthening, flexibility/stretching and stability/balance. Each section will very briefly describe the exercise category, its general benefits, its benefits on chronic disease and recommendations.


Aerobic/Endurance


This category of exercise basically concerns those exercises that make you breath heavily and accelerate your heartbeat. For example, walking, running, swimming, etc.


In the elderly, maximum oxygen consumption decreases with age. Doing such exercise will prevent it from going further down. For your information, maximum oxygen consumption has been associated with multiple benefits such as: longer lifespan, better quality of life, reduced risks of stroke, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, improved mood and self-esteem, and improved sleep patterns. There is also evidence that high intensity aerobic activities can enhance blood sugar control.


As for benefits in chronic disease, their main benefit of such exercises is to decrease cardiovascular risk factors through a multitude of mechanisms.

Now that you know the benefits of this type of exercise, I’m sure you want to go outside right now and go for a run; however, one should ease into these exercises especially if you have not had the occasion to do so in a while. A good tip would be to exercise to a maximal intensity while still being able to maintain a conversation. The recommended frequency should be 3 times a week, 30 min per session (including 5-10 min warm-up). Furthermore, exercises such as cycling, elliptical walker and aquatic aerobic exercises should be considered if your body can’t keep up in other aerobic activities.


Resistance/strengthening


This category consists of those exercises that work out your muscles, make you sore the next day and make you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.


In the elderly, sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass, is associated with reduced functionality, frailty and disability. Doing such exercises will substantially improve muscle strength and power and will also increase muscle mass and decrease body fat.


As for benefits in chronic disease, exercises working at the core and hip level can improve mobility, reduce poor posture and reduce risk of osteoporosis and its associated fractures (see Osteoporosis article in our Blog for more details). It can also reduce pain symptoms and improve function and general quality of life in people with osteoarthritis.


It is recommended to start with low intensity exercises, and if pain or considerable weakness can be felt, starting with isometric (no movement at the joint) strengthening should be considered. It is recommended to perform such exercises 2 to 3 times a week while aiming for 10-15 repetitions per exercise. It should also address the major muscle groups especially at the core and hips. Aquatic resistance exercise should be considered as an alternative if limited by poor balance or any condition that limit weight-bearing activities.

Flexibility/stretching


Flexibility is the range of motion at a joint, for example, being able to touch your toes without flexing the knees (which I have never been able to do ☹).


Poor flexibility makes it so that your body is less agile when responding to any sort of perturbation; as a result, without proper flexibility, your chances of falling are increased. Therefore, the STRIVE falling prevention program includes stretching exercises in its recommended workouts.


As for benefits in chronic disease, poor joint flexibility leads to greater risk of joint or muscle injury. It also has a significant role in treating body pain such as chronic neck pain.


Holding a stretch position should last between 30-60 seconds, and you should feel tightness and a slight discomfort but not pain. It is recommended to perform this type of exercise 2 to 3 times per week, 2 to 4 times each individual exercise. Ideally, it should be performed after aerobic or resistance exercise given that the body is already warmed-up.

Stability/Balance


Balance is all about being able to maintain the body’s center of mass by the body’s own support (mostly the legs if you are not a member of the Cirque du Soleil!)


There is modest level of evidence that balance exercise included with strength exercises decrease fall risk. Tai Chi has been shown to decrease multiple fall risk by 47.5%. In general, it can be beneficial for improving balance, strength, and overall functional ability.


As for benefits in chronic disease, it may help improve balance and strength in patients with myasthenia gravis and patients with mild to moderate Parkinson disease.


Exercise programs should include a progressively increase in the difficulty of its different postures. This can be achieved by increasing speed, adding multidirectional movements or adding loads. Increasing difficulty should only be done when you have mastered the given exercises; otherwise, you may hurt yourself. Walking on different terrains, if you have the ability to do so, is also something that can significantly improve balance. Neuromotor exercise such as tai chi, qigong, yoga are also great. It is recommended that such exercises be performed 2 to 3 times a week.


Conclusion:


We went through together the different types of exercise and their benefits. As you can see, you would gain a lot from performing some of those exercises. Even if this text discussed each type individually, it is noteworthy that an overall physically active lifestyle will lead to improved well-being, quality of life and decrease the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. After reading this short paper, I am sure that you are super pumped-up to go out there and exercise, and that is awesome! However, I wish to caution you to go slowly and progressively when starting out any new workout regimen in order not to hurt yourself. On that note, I hope next time the workout is hard, or you don’t feel motivated, that you remember this article. Please always keep in mind that the momentarily discomfort you experience is 100% worth it and that the fun increases in time!


Have a great workout!

Cited Works:

Galloza, J., Castillo, B., & Micheo, W. (2017). Benefits of Exercise in the Older Population. Physical medicine and rehabilitation clinics of North America, 28(4), 659–669. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmr.2017.06.001

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