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07th May 2020

Exercise helps an older person improve muscle strength, balance and mobility and enable them to continue to perform daily tasks.

A person’s physical strength can also affect their ability to go shopping, cook or eat independently which can ultimately influence food intake.

Older people vary in their level of independence, from those who are mobile to those who are immobile and are very frail. Encouraging them to incorporate appropriate exercise, including strength, balance and endurance training in their daily routine when possible will promote continued physical and mental functioning and prolong independence.

Everyone can benefit from regular exercise or physical activity, and it’s never too late to start;
even those using ‘walkers’ or wheelchairs or who have arthritis or heart disease and are on
multiple medicines can benefit.

There are different forms of exercise/training that have different benefits: balance training,
strength or resistance training, flexibility training and aerobic or cardiovascular training.

Resistance/Strength Exercise: Benefits

• Increased muscle strength and muscle mass
• Improved balance and gait stability
• Increased bone density and strength
• Prevention of falls
• Improved appetite
• Improved diabetic control, glucose tolerance
• Slowing of chronic wasting diseases
• Improved functional independence

Aerobic Exercise: Benefits

• Reduces blood pressure
• Helps to prevent constipation
• Improves glucose tolerance, diabetes control
• Decreased depression
• Improved aerobic capacity
• Decreased arthritis symptoms

Balance Exercise: Benefits

• Gait disorder improvement
• Falls prevention
• Decreased fear of falling

Flexibility Exercise: Benefits

• Increased tissue elasticity
• Increased joint range of motion
• Improved functional capacity

Each person needs to have an individualised exercise plan. The prescribed exercise needs to be appropriate to the problem that is being addressed. The exercise should begin gradually and be tailored to the person’s needs. This will be important especially if the individual has muscle wasting, poor gait and balance, visual impairment or is on multiple medications .

There is some overlap between the forms of exercise and their benefits.

Common to the older population is a decrease in muscle mass and strength. This is the result of a decline in the production of muscle tissue, and increased muscle wasting from inactivity or disease as well as age. This loss of muscle mass means they have a harder time remaining physically active and gradually lose the ability to perform activities of daily living and as a result they become frailer.

While all types of exercise are highly recommended, only strength training, otherwise known as resistance training, can improve age related loss of muscle mass. The benefits of this type of training include increased hip and thigh muscle strength. If a person can’t get out of a chair without using their hands, then their hip and thigh muscles need strengthening. Strength training may be the preferred initial exercise. It enables them to participate more fully and
safely in aerobic activities or simple tasks requiring transfers or mobility.

It makes sense to begin with resistance training which improves strength, balance, mobility and functional independence. Further improvements to health can be gained with the later introduction of aerobic and flexibility exercise for additional cardiovascular benefit and improvements in daily activities.

Photo Credit: peakpx