LONG BEACH, Calif. – For older adults who are new to physical activity, the prospect of exercise can be particularly daunting. An expert at ACSM’s 12th-annual Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition discussed how the 65-and-older population differs as it relates to physical activity, and how this group can be motivated to exercise.
Melissa Miller, M.S., says that first and foremost, older adults should consult a trainer who is qualified to work with those who may have special needs related to chronic conditions. Miller says as many as four of 10 older adults suffer from a chronic condition, such as heart disease, high cholesterol, or arthritis.
Another hurdle, according to Miller, is exercise adherence. Research has reported a 50 percent dropout rate between three to six months of initiating an exercise program, which may be even higher among an older population who may think it’s “too late” to improve their health and fitness level.
“A person’s confidence that they can carry out specific tasks decreases with age,” Miller said. “One study found that a full 45 percent of older men think they have little control over their health. Changing this belief is crucial to encouraging the elderly to stick with exercise.”
Miller’s presentation included tips and advice for designing an older adult’s exercise program:
- Keep additional barriers in mind. The older adult’s physical environment may not be conducive to exercise, or he/she might believe that exercise is impossible. These barriers should be compensated for or diminished as much as possible.
- Design the right program. Appropriate intensity level is important to remember, to prevent injury and ensure progress. Difficulties with balance (and steps to improve balance) should also be considered. Programs should be simple, but sound.
- Safety first. Twenty-one percent of older adults fear injury due to exercise. Supervision by an exercise professional is highly recommended and valued.
- Build upon what’s already there. If the older adult is a former dancer, practice leg lifts – something the person has already done in his or her life. This will also help build confidence in exercise abilities.
Miller says that the immediate benefits of exercise for an older adult include relaxation, stress and anxiety reduction, and enhanced mood. Long-term benefits, in addition to weight loss, strength and balance increases, and ease or elimination of chronic conditions, include improved mental health, motor control benefits, sense of belonging, increase in life span, and increase in overall quality of life.
The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 20,000 International, National and Regional members are dedicated to promoting and integrating scientific research, education and practical applications of sports medicine and exercise science to maintain and enhance physical performance, fitness, health and quality of life.