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Easy Strategies To Keep Active As You Get Older

older woman fastening bike helmet while seated in open car hatchback

It may be tempting as you get older to slow down a bit. After all, you may feel as though your energy and strength are ebbing with the passing years. There’s good reason for that.

Your energy declines because of normal changes. The environment and your genes lead to changes in your cells that cause your muscles to lose mass, strength and flexibility. As a result, strenuous activities that you could handle with no problem as a young adult are more tiring now.

In addition, these cellular changes also limit your heart muscle’s pumping ability, which reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood that provides energy to the cells.

Age-related muscle loss is a natural part of aging. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3 percent to 5 percent every decade.

Maintaining physical activity as you get older will help you keep your independence longer, prevent or manage any chronic illnesses and easily continue to do everyday tasks.

Maintaining Balance

Balance activities are important as you age to reduce the risk of falls. More than 2 million people in the U.S. visit an emergency room each year because of an injury they received after falling.

There are several reasons why your risk of falling increases with age:

  • Chronic illness, especially those that involved bones and muscles
  • Side effects of medicine such as dizziness
  • Poor eyesight

You can do balance exercises anywhere, as long as you have something that is sturdy to hang onto for support.

Balance Exercises For Beginners

  • Walk heel to toe, placing one foot in front of the other, with the heel of one foot touching the toes of the other foot. You can do this next to a wall or something else you can hold onto for  support.
  • Try tai chi, a form of Chinese martial arts that focuses on slow deliberate movements that can improve stability. This form of exercise can help you train your muscles to shift your weight while maintaining balance.  
  • Stand on one foot, slowly increasing the duration and difficulty when you are ready. You can hold onto a chair back with both hands for support. Next, try holding onto the chair with just one hand. Over time, hold on with one finger, then move on to standing on one foot with no support. To make it harder, try it with your eyes closed.

How Much Activity Is Needed?

For adults age 65 and older, follow these activity guidelines set by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • At least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week
    • Moderate physical activity can include slow walking, mowing the grass, cleaning the house or gardening. You should have enough breath to easily hold a conversation at this intensity level.
    • Vigorous physical activity can include jogging, fast bicycling, shoveling or fast swimming. It should be hard to hold a conversation at this level.
  • At least two days a week of activities that strengthen muscles
  • Activities to improve balance such as standing on one foot

The CDC recommends aiming for the recommended activity level but to be as active as you are able.

Avoid Injury

Avoiding injury as you age is particularly important because it takes longer for older adults to recover. Some tips to help you avoid injury:

  • Wear supportive shoes that fit your foot properly and are suitable for the type of activity you are doing.
  • Watch for blisters, sores and tenderness and stop or moderate activity that is causing these types of injuries.
  • Use massage tools to help prevent soreness such as massage canes, foam rollers or a rolling stick.
  • Warm up by mimicking your exercise movements to increase blood flow to the areas that you are about to work out. This gets your muscles, tendons and ligaments ready for exertion.
  • Cool down by stretching and holding the stretches for at least 30 seconds

Roxanne Pell, PT, MS, is a senior physical therapist and geriatric specialist with Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine at UH Mentor Health Center.

Related Links

The highly trained rehabilitation specialists at University Hospitals help people of all ages regain independence, function and confidence after an illness or injury. Experienced physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and other providers work one-on-one with each patient to help them reach their personal goals and improve activities of daily living. Learn more about rehabilitation services at University Hospitals.