New Exercise Recommendations for Older Adults

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association have published 2007 exercise recommendations for older adults in the August, 28, 2007, issue of Circulation.

Their definition of older adults is:

  • people over 65
  • people aged 50 to 64 with chronic conditions (such as high blood pressure or other treated or untreated ongoing issues) or functional limitations (something that “impairs the ability to engage in physical activity”).

The recommendations include four different types of exercise per week. Remember, this is the minimum. It is also recommended that a health-care provider, and possibly an exercise specialist be involved in developing your activity plan.

Aerobic
Do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise three days a week. These can be spread out to three 10-minute intervals per day. Unfortunately, the light-intensity daily-living tasks (shopping, cooking, walking around the office or any moderate activity lasting less than 10 minutes) don’t count.

Unlike for younger adults, vigorous and moderate activities have a more subjective definition here, using a 10-point scale. (Sitting is 0 and maximum effort is 10). Moderate intensity is defined as a 5 or 6, causing some increase in heart rate and breathing. Vigorous intensity is defined as a 7 or 8 with a marked increase in heart rate and breathing. You should not exceed this intensity; however, increasing times may add further benefit for healthy adults.

Muscle-Strengthening or Resistance Training
Two or more nonconsecutive days per week, weight train with a weight that allows for 10 to 15 repetitions. Include eight to 10 exercises involving the major muscle groups, such as the legs, arms, chest, abdomen and back. Use a weight that allows for 10 to 15 repetitions per exercise. If 0 is no movement and 10 is maximum effort, try to stay between 5 and 8.

Flexibility
Stretch 10 minutes a week (preferably the same day as doing one of the above exercises). Do 10- to 30 second intervals and 3 to 4 repetitions per exercise.

Balance
Nursing home and other community-dwelling older adults should “perform exercises that maintain or improve balance.”

Benefits of exercise
Proven benefits include reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, colon cancer, breast cancer, anxiety, depression, falls, functional limitations, peripheral vascular disease, cholesterol, osteoarthritis, dementia and insomnia.

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