“Age shouldn’t keep anyone from exercising,” says Richard Kratche, MD, Medical Director for Cleveland Clinic’s Twinsburg Family Health and Surgery Center. “Just look at the athletes who recently participated in the Senior Games.”
It’s true, however, that older adults who exercise may face physical challenges simply because their bodies are aging, says Dr. Kratche. For example:
- Osteoarthritis is more common
- Kidneys may not function as well
- Risk of injury, such as a rotator cuff tear, increases
- Cumulative effects of smoking and pollution dramatically increases the rate of declining lung capacity
Despite all this, you’re still better off exercising. “The challenges of an aging body are just a part of reality,” Dr. Kratche says. “But people who stay fit throughout their lives have bodies that become – and stay – more efficient.”
Tips on preventing injuries
Some activities, such as biking or using an elliptical trainer, are easier on joints than running. As long as you enjoy the activity, keep doing it, Dr. Kratche says, but always be sure to wear any necessary protective gear such as a helmet or goggles. Other tips he suggests:
- Replace running shoes every six months because the compression on the bottom of the shoe breaks down, increasing the likelihood of injury.
- Stay hydrated, particularly in warmer temperatures, and don’t overdress when the weather turns chilly.
- Warm up and cool down before and after strenuous physical activity to help your body transition more easily.
- Stretch to increase flexibility. Don’t bounce while you stretch because this increases the risk of tearing muscle tissue. Gently stretch until the muscle is tight, hold for a count of 10, then release. For increased flexibility, add a yoga class to your exercise regimen.
Should you do cardio or weights?
Both cardiovascular and resistance training are important for older adults because their benefits are different.
“Research shows links between longevity and level of fitness,” Dr. Kratche says. “Aerobic fitness is shown to prevent or improve 40 different disease conditions, while resistance training will improve muscle strength and decrease the risk of falling.”
Regarding seniors’ risk of falling, Dr. Kratche says that older people don’t trip any more frequently than younger people. “It’s that they can’t regain their balance as quickly because of slower reaction times and decreased muscle strength.”
More activity equals lower risk
Exercise is a requirement for health, and those who do will reap the benefits well past the age of 65.
“The World Health Organization recommends 150 minutes of exercise every week, and the Centers for Disease Control says to log 10,000 steps daily,” says Dr. Kratche. “Unfortunately, the average American gets around 3,000-4,000 daily steps. This may be why 67 percent of Americans are overweight or obese.”
Studies show that seniors who remain active and keep their weight normal have a significantly lower risk of osteoarthritis than those who are overweight. Many people don’t realize that the amount of force on the heels and knees when walking is five times the amount they weigh. So if you weigh 200 pounds, each step puts 1,000 pounds of pressure on your knees and heels.
Healthy lifestyle choices also mean better overall health, fewer medications and significantly less physical disability.
“It’s never too late to start,” Dr. Kratche says. “You may not ever participate in the Senior Games, but you’ll be a much healthier person.”