USC Gerontology



The Necessity of Exercise: Physical Activity and Aging

As the aging population keeps increasing, more and more older people are recognizing a growing need for exercise in their lives. Maintaining an active lifestyle is crucial for sustaining health and happiness. Exercise can help older adults achieve a higher quality of life, and it can help them live longer as well.

To learn more, checkout the infographic below created by University of Southern California’s Master of Arts in Gerontology (MAG) & Master of Aging Services Management (MASM) online program.


Effects of Aging on the Body

There were approximately 40.3 million people aged 65 years or older living in the United States in 2010, making up 13 percent of the overall population during this time period.

The aging process can have an enormous impact on the human body. As people age, they may notice a loss of agility, balance, endurance and strength as well as a loss of bone density and muscle mass. Likewise, they may also notice an increase in body fat and possible joint injuries.

It is estimated that four out of every five adults aged 50 years and above are suffering from at least one condition that is chronic.

Positive Effects of Exercise for Older Adults

However, some of the most prominent effects of aging may be mitigated by exercising regularly. Exercising can have numerous positive effects for older people because of its ability to increase balance, increase flexibility, increase mobility and lower blood pressure. It can also help people maintain a healthy weight and reduce the chance of developing diseases and disabilities.

Exercise can have an especially positive effect on heart and brain health. A study reported by the Gerontological Society of America found that fitness training led to significant increases in brain volume in people between 60 and 79 years old. Regular exercise can also help treat several chronic health conditions, including arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.

Exercising may even have the potential to increase lifespan, and three hours of exercise each week could possibly extend a person’s life by five years.

Since exercise can have such a positive effect on physical health, many older adults have chosen to lead an active life. Approximately 28 to 34 percent of adults between the ages of 65 and 74 have reported being physically active. And 35 to 44 percent of all adults aged 75 years or older reported keeping an active lifestyle as well.

Necessary Planning

Due to adverse effects that may come from exercising without first consulting a doctor and taking preventative measures, planning is a necessary precaution that most people should take to safely engage in exercise.

Consulting a doctor about any unexplained symptoms and ongoing health conditions may help prevent medical problems that could come from exercising. A doctor can also determine whether any exercises should be avoided and ensure that preventative measures have been taken.

Learning about preventative care before exercising is also essential. Older people should learn about how chronic conditions can affect exercise routines, find comfortable workout clothes and shoes to wear, and stay informed about safety precautions and unsafe activities before starting a new exercise regimen.

Physical Activity and Exercise

Older people can try a wide range of exercises to improve their physical health. Aerobics, swimming, tai chi, weight training and yoga are all great options for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Engaging in strenuous physical activity is not the only way to stay fit and healthy. It is also possible to stay physically active by keeping up with casual daily activities. Walking briskly, taking the stairs, gardening, doing yard work and completing household chores are all simple activities that may make staying active an easier endeavor.

Here are a few more tips for making daily or weekly errands more exercise friendly.

Trying new things can be exciting and rewarding in multiple ways. Consider walking to the park instead of playing video games or watching television when babysitting grandchildren. This healthy activity could even be a memorable bonding experience.

Rethinking priorities could be helpful as well. Taking a walk after lunch instead of reading a book could potentially become a fun daily routine.

Turning everyday activities into an exercise is another easy way to increase physical activity. Raking leaves instead of using a leaf blower could transform a mundane chore into a workout.

Goal Setting

Coming up with attainable short- and long-term goals can also help foster full commitment to an exercise plan.

Short-term goals should be small and easy to accomplish. Possible short-term goals could include deciding to be active, signing up for nearby exercise classes and making plans to exercise with friends on a regular basis.

Long-term goals should be realistic, individualized and able to hold interest. Focusing on future aspirations for six months, a year or two years from now is essential for keeping up with long-term goals.

As more of the population continues to grow older, an increasing percentage of older adults are recognizing how keeping an active lifestyle is a great way to feel healthy and invigorated as time passes. Look through this infographic to learn more about the necessity of exercise gerontology.

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