Monday, December 14, 2009

Physical Activity and Older Adults

Regular physical activity has been shown to improve the functional status and quality of life of older adults. It is recommended that, if appropriate, older adults should engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity 5 days per week.


Many non-communicable diseases (NCDs) prevalent in older adults can benefit from participation in regular physical activity:
  • cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease, stroke);
  • osteoarthritis (a disease that causes joint swelling and pain and limits movement);
  • osteoporosis (a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break);
  • hypertension (elevated blood pressure and is also a risk factor for several other NCDs).

While being active from an early age can help prevent many diseases, regular movement and activity can also help relieve the disability and pain associated with these conditions. Importantly, the benefits of physical activity can be enjoyed even if regular practice starts late in life. It has been suggested that older adults engaged in regular physical activity demonstrate improved:

  • balance
  • strength
  • coordination and motor control
  • flexibility
  • endurance.

Consequently, physical activity can reduce the risk of falls-a major cause of disability among older people.

Physical activity has also been shown to improve mental health and cognitive function in older adults and has been found to contribute to the management of disorders such as depression and anxiety. Active lifestyles often provide older persons with regular occasions to make new friendships, maintain social networks, and interact with other people of all ages.

Despite this, a global trend of declining physical activity participation that is associated with increasing age has been observed.


Physical activity for older adults can take many forms (e.g. walking, swimming, stretching, dancing, gardening, hiking, cycling or organised exercise sessions). However, there are several important considerations specific to the older adult population with regard to physical activity recommendations:

  • Recommended intensity of aerobic activity should take into account the older adult's aerobic fitness.
  • Activities that maintain or increase flexibility are recommended.
  • Balance exercises are recommended for older adults at risk of falls.
  • Older adults that have medical conditions or disabilities that may affect their capacity to be physically active should seek advice from a doctor.


The number of people over 60 years old is projected to double in the next 20 years. Most of these older persons will be living in developing countries. Reducing and postponing age-related disability is an essential public health measure and physical activity can play an important role in creating and sustaining well-being at all ages.


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