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Senior Exercise: Don’t Die of “Fatal Armchair!”

By , 7:10 pm on

What do men over 70 do for an average of 18 minutes a day and women over 70 do for an average of 10 minutes a day?  It’s not reading, which comes in at about 50 minutes a day. It’s not watching TV, estimated at 3.2 hours. It’s not relaxing and thinking–people over 70 spend about 55 minutes a day on average doing that. Did you guess?  It’s…drum roll…exercise, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  If you roll in lawn and garden care, the time spent exercising jumps to 42 minutes for men and 25 minutes for women, on average.  Clearly, 10-18 minutes a day is not enough exercise to keep bones, muscles, and your heart, strong and healthy.

So what? Shouldn’t retired people be able to do whatever they want? Should the health police be after your mom and dad? Well, sort of.The threat of lost mobility–once gone is usually gone for good–may not be enough to move a person to action. Sometimes the older adults in our lives need help finding motivation to stay in good physical health.  Spending active time together is a great way to accomplish increased physical exertion and support connection.  I’d also recommend helping them go to senior centers, church programs, or health clubs with programs for older adults.  All these places offer a way to connect with peers who are working towards the common goal of avoiding “Fatal Armchair” disease.

Seniors can look for programs which incorporate 2 or more of the 4 different types of exercise the National Institutes of Health recommends and double up on their efforts. Here are the 4 categories of exercise:

  • Endurance (aerobic activities which increase breathing and heart rate, such as brisk walking, dancing, swimming, and biking)
  • Strength (make muscles stronger, such as lifting weights or using a resistance band)
  • Balance (help to prevent falls, i.e., standing on one foot, heel to toe walk, tai chi)
  • Flexibility (stretch muscles and help body stay limber, as in yoga or calf stretch)

Zumba is an example of a program which would incorporate 3 of the 4 kinds of exercise, especially if it begins and ends with stretching.

Drs. Kamarof and Baggish from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, respectively, recommend finding ways to incorporate more movement and activity in one’s everyday life, and starting right away, no matter your age.  While an “active” philosophy has become second nature to many younger baby boomers, the generation before them or the oldest of the boomers may need nudges. Be creative in encouraging older adults to make active choices and be active together, such as walking the golf course or taking the stairs in public buildings.

A favorite magazine, Experience Life, talks about exercise as a privilege.  This philosophy values both the physical ability and the resources to do the exercise.  People tend to find the time and the ability to do what they want to.  Living a more active life means making activity something you really want to do.

PS: Balance exercises can keep you or the elders in your life from being one of the 2 mm older Americans who go to the emergency room due to fall-related injuries and disabilities.  The National Institutes of Health recommends doing simple balance exercises, such as a back leg raise, side leg raise, knee curl and toe stand exercises, all of which can be found on website.  Start out by holding onto a firm, stable surface, like a chair back, with both hands and progress to down to one finger, then no hands.  Finally, practice with your eyes closed.


Photo Credit: Life is just one big balancing act, by Josh.