The passage of time ensures that inevitably, everyone becomes older. However, the expression ‘age is just a number’ is a positive and empowering way to look at getting older. In this post by Maroubra Road Physiotherapy, we look at eight helpful ways that older people can use exercise. We will look at ways to stay healthy and fit, along with how to avoid common injuries that older people regularly encounter.
Boost your exercise regime to make your bones stronger
As we age, our bones become more brittle and are easier to break. Exercise and physical activity plays an important role in maintaining bone density and building muscle mass. Doing so also ensures that older people continue to have a high quality of life into their later years.
Muscle wasting (also known as sarcopenia) is also common as we age. Exercise can radically reduce the risk of sarcopenia, bone brittleness and also boost fitness, strength and mobility.
Exercise regularly to protect your brain and body
Studies have shown that exercise, combined with a balanced diet mitigates against the risks of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, dementia and obesity. Particularly as we age, we do ourselves a favour by maintaining a sustained and regular exercise programme over the years.
Try weight-bearing exercises
The strength of your bones improves when you regularly place a certain amount of load upon them. This doesn’t need to be a heavy weight or involve a complicated exercise routine. Weight-bearing exercises could simply mean regular brisk walking, jogging and stair climbing. Other gentle weight-bearing exercises include pilates, yoga and tai chi.
As you gradually build fitness, and in consultation with a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist, you may consider trying a more intense form of weight-bearing exercise, such as dancing, hiking or tennis.
Try resistance training
Resistance training requires your muscles to contract while you lift weights. This is great for strengthening your bones and muscles. For older people, this kind of resistance training should focus on targeting specific areas that are vulnerable to fractures such as the joints, especially the hips and spine.
Some types of resistance training include lifting light weights to improve your upper and lower body strength.
It’s important to note that the amount of exercise you do, and the degree of difficulty of the exercise will depend on the individual, their health status and any pre-existing sporting injuries. If you have any doubts, speak with the physiotherapists at Maroubra Road Physiotherapy about tailoring an exercise program that best suits you.
Avoid falls through balancing exercises
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a fall is an event where a person comes to rest inadvertently on the ground or floor. As we age, our risk of having a fall increases. Even though the risk of falling increases with age; balance, strength and conditioning exercises will significantly reduce these risks.
An interesting fact is that 50% of all falls occur in the home. Around one third of all people aged over 65 will have a fall each year. Stretching, strengthening and balancing exercise are a terrific way to manage the health of your bones and muscles and their functional abilities.
Risk factors for falls in the home
It’s not only poor muscle strength and poor balance that contribute to increased risks of falling. Here are some other known risk factors:
- Cognitive impairment
- Medication side-effects
- Poor nutrition
- Hazards in the home environment
- Inner ear problems
- Low blood pressure
- Poor vision
Despite these additional risk factors, regular exercise that incorporates resistance training, weight training, static and dynamic stretches and balancing exercises can reduce the risk of falls by up to 20%. It’s recommended to incorporate at least 2-3 hours of this kind of exercise each week to gain the most benefit.
Prolonged independence, longevity, increased wellbeing, increased muscle strength and power are some of the benefits that older people can enjoy through exercises targeted at falls prevention. It is important to remember that when doing these exercises, special care is needed to minimise the risks of falling. The team at Maroubra Road Physiotherapy will be able to provide the personalised care and guidance needed for this kind of exercise. We also offer small group balance and conditioning exercise classes at the practice twice per week, which are tailored to the individuals participating in the class.
Try some balancing exercises
Here are some great balance-strengthening exercises to try : Please ensure you are safe from falling when doing these exercises.
- Tai chi
- Heel-to-toe stances
- Heel-to-toe walking
- Sideways walking
- Backwards walking
- Seated Knee Extensions
- Standing Leg Curls
- Toe Raises
- Standing on one leg (with hand support as needed)
- Repeated chair stands (getting up and down from a chair)
Know how much exercise is right for you
Sadly, only 25% of older adults in Australia get enough physical activity each day. Only 6% will do strengthening and balancing exercises.
Getting your body moving is generally a good idea, if you are healthy. This can be achieved through cycling, walking, gardening and home maintenance.
If you are feeling unwell, or your body is in a frail condition, it is important to seek professional help before undertaking an exercise regimen. Maroubra Road Physiotherapy can assess your personal abilities, health condition and how you should approach this exercise regime so that you get the most out of it.
Join a community event and get active
Many older people face barriers to getting active that could be financial, social or practical. Here are some resources and services which offer information, encouragement and organised exercise for older people.
- NSW Ministry of Health Active and Healthy website: Has a database of physical activity opportunities for over 50s.
- The NSW Get Healthy Service: Free information, motivation and support for making healthy lifestyle changes.
- Heart Foundation: Join a walking group in your area and keep fit in a social way.
- Park Run: A free 5km time running or walking event, at over 300 locations throughout Australia.
At Maroubra Road Physiotherapy, we offer preventative care to help older people with their balance, strength and body conditioning, which helps to prevent falls. We take a holistic approach to the health and well-being of older people, and see the whole person, not just the condition. We have helped many older people to regain their strength and fitness following a musculoskeletal injury.
The Conversation (2018) Health Check: How much physical activity is enough in older age
Exercise and Sports Science Australia. (2018) Healthy Ageing: Age Is just a number if you exercise right?
Sports Medicine Australia. Australian Government. (2019) Active Older People
Sports Medicine Australia. Australian Government. (2008) Choose Health, Be Active: A Physical Activity Guide for Older Australians.
NSW Ministry of Health (2019) Active and Healthy
The Heart Foundation Australia (2019) Walking Groups