Why oldies must exercise

Regular exercise can limit the development of chronic disease and disabling conditions, which will then allow for an increased active life expectancy.

That’s according to Hannah Raath, a BASA-registered biokineticist, ((Biokinetics Association of Southern Africa) who says that all older adults should avoid inactivity.

“Some exercise is better than none – even small amounts of activity are beneficial. However, the higher the amount of physical activity, or the higher the intensity of the exercise, the better for one’s overall health.”
BASA is a professional body representing approximately 1100 biokineticists.

These are registered healthcare professionals who are trained to prescribe scientifically-based exercise programmes that are appropriate to an individual’s condition and needs.

Raath says various guidelines emphasise that older adults should aim to achieve 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise. If this is not achievable due to chronic conditions; older adults should be as physically active as their limitations allow.

Benefits of physical activity in older adults:

The process of ageing is complex, and involves many variables (example, genetics, lifestyle factors, chronic diseases) that interact with each other, determining the manner in which we age.

“Regular physical activity (aerobic and strength training) contributes to healthy ageing. For example, exercise has been shown to have positive effects on cognitive and physical function as well as postural stability and balance. And that’s just one aspect of the exercise story,” she added.

Cardio vascular (CV) disease is a major cause of death in older adults, thus the effect of aerobic exercise on CV disease risk factors is of paramount importance. Several risk factors are decreased, and maximal aerobic capacity is increased as a result of regular aerobic exercise.

Older adults who regularly participate in endurance training benefit from lowered blood pressure; this effect is more pronounced in individuals with hypertension.

Then there’s sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass with age). This is a major component of normal ageing that causes a reduction in muscle strength. There is some indication that actual muscle function decreases with ageing, but the majority of the loss in strength is caused from sarcopenia.

Between the ages of 50-70 years, it is generally found that there is a 30% reduction in strength (15% per decade), and from 70 years onwards, strength decreases by 30% each decade.

“Resistance exercise, therefore, is important. In fact, one study (Porter M, 2000) has shown that through resistive exercise, older adults elicit similar or greater strength gains when compared to young adults,” Raath said.

A loss of balance often results in older people falling and sustaining debilitating injuries. According to Raath, this is often because older people often lack the ability to respond appropriately to disturbances in balance, as their control strategy needs to be planned beforehand. Younger adults, on the other hand, respond automatically to balance changes, which is more effective.

“Exercise enhances the overall system’s response to balance and this leads directly to reduction of risk of falling in older adults. Exercise programmes that focus specifically on balance and stability are effective in improving postural stability and functional balance in older adults,” she explains.

“Lastly, ageing affects structures that make up joints, which may reduce the range and the function of joints. Improving flexibility enhances muscle or connective tissue properties, and this causes a reduction in joint pain and a change in muscle recruitment patterns. This contributes to improving individual’s ability to perform activities of daily living,” she said.

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