Structured physical activity or exercise
is a popular pursuit amongst older persons and can be of considerable
benefit given the physical declines associated with ageing.
The following section is intended
to provide accurate, practical information regarding the adoption
and continuation of physical activity and its importance to
As we age, a great number of structural
and functional transformations occur leading to a decline
in "optimal" physical capacity.
While our level of activity affects
some of these changes, others bear little relationship to
the quantity of exercise performed.
Age-related changes in skin composition
(texture, etc.), vision, hair colour, hearing, etc. take place
irrespective of an individual's level of physical fitness.
However, other factors such as breathing
capacity, heart function, muscle strength, etc. are heavily
influenced by one's level of fitness.
The human body generally responds
well to physical exercise and substantial improvements may
be anticipated in heart and lung function, muscular strength
and endurance, flexibility and one's ability to respond to
Some of the more noticeable changes
to exercise may include:
- Increased bone strength;
- Increased physical work capacity
(one's ability to perform physical work);
- Increased joint range of motion
- Improved sense of well being;
- Increased muscular strength;
- Improved glucose regulation (very
favourable for diabetics);
- Decreased blood pressure;
- Improved sleep patterns and levels
Indeed, exercise can have a profound
effect upon older persons with the most "unfit"
usually experiencing the greatest benefits.
When prescribing exercise, health professionals
will usually talk about 3 important factors, namely: intensity,
duration and frequency.
The intensity of exercise refers to
the amount of effort put into an exercise. Intensity is usually
measured by assessing the heart rate during exercise. As a
general rule, the intensity of exercise should not exceed
certain limits. If monitoring heart rate use the simple equation
- 200 minus your age (in years) to estimate the working heart
rate you should remain under.
Of course 'listening to your own body'
can be just as important and reliable in determining whether
or not you are exercising at a sufficient intensity. Accordingly,
a feeling of mild fatigue should be your aim immediately
following a bout of exercise.
The duration of exercise refers to
the actual time spent performing an activity. It is generally
accepted that to improve cardiorespiratory or "heart"
fitness you should aim to achieve 30 minutes of exercise on
most (if not all) days of the week.
However, recent studies have shown
that favourable "health" benefits can be achieved
from as little as 5 minutes continuous exercise, repeated
several times per day.
The frequency of exercise refers to
the number of occasions per week that activity should be undertaken.
The accepted frequency, in order to
achieve cardiorespiratory or "heart" fitness is
3 to 5 sessions per week. However, positive benefits
have been shown to occur from as little as 2 sessions per
The most important element of exercise
prescription is the notion that activity should become a "life-long"
habit and not merely a passing "fad".
There are certain things you should
be aware of before commencing any program of physical activity.
General advice includes the following:
- Contact should be made with your
Doctor prior to commencing a program. A brief medical
check-up will ensure that it is safe for you to proceed
with an exercise program;
- Set short term goals rather than
long term aims;
- Take account of existing conditions
and choose an appropriate activity that you will enjoy;
- Try to exercise in a group setting
and walk in safe areas with a partner, if possible;
- Ease steadily into an exercise
program by beginning with low intensity, low frequency activity
and proceed slowly;
- Postpone your exercise if you have
a temporary illness or when the weather is extremely hot
- Set aside a specific time of the
day to do your exercise;
- Start a regular routine by exercising
every other day;
- Stop exercising and consult your
Doctor if any of the following occur: nausea, dizziness,
breathlessness, tightness in the chest or persistent muscle
- Avoid any exercise that hurts.
Movements should be gentle and comfortable.
- Avoid exercises such as deep knee
bends and rapid or vigorous turning of the head and neck.
- Observe the adage "No gain
when in pain"