These days, many doctors focus on prevention, especially in younger patients to avoid any worsening of ongoing problems and the rise of new ones. Problems with mobility are a common symptom of aging, and around 17% of seniors age 65 or older can’t walk a quarter of a mile and another 28% have trouble doing so. With that being said, that doesn’t mean that senior citizens are doomed; according to a new study, it’s never too late to start turning around one’s health for the better. Many seniors have hips issues or fall often and have trouble recovering. New research has shown that physical activity, even in little amounts, can severely improve one’s strength and flexibility and make recovery much quicker.
A study done by Dr. Thomas Gill and colleagues looked to compare the effectiveness of a structured program that includes either physical activity or health education to seniors 70-89 years old who could currently walk a quarter mile, but had some limitations in their mobility.1 The group was split into two subgroups where half the group attended 26 weekly health education classes followed by monthly seminars. The other half spent about an hour doing physical activity at a clinic twice a week, as well as at-home exercises. They found that the group that engaged in physical activity were 25% less likely to experience significant mobility issues than the group that focused on education. This is because they saw major improvements in the speed of recovery from being unable to walk and were less likely to have problems getting around after that recovery period. Many patients said they felt an improvement in not only their physical feeling, but their mentality as well.
Many older adults and seniors believe it’s “too late” for them to start exercising and improving their health, and this study was done to prove that theory wrong by showing it’s never too late. Dr. Gill even said “prescribing exercise may be just as important as prescribing medications”.2 The old regimen of telling seniors to “take it easy” is getting thrown away and replaced with small doses of physical activity. Older adults should focus on getting in some sort of activity during the day, and focus on the time spent doing that activity, rather than the type of exercise. This can be something as simple as walking around the block while flexing one’s muscles. One important thing to remember is to start slow to really reap all the benefits, as well as decrease risk of injury. This also ensures people will not give up as easily since their progress will not be hindered.
Starting with a plan is the best way to start and to ensure success. Susan Hughes, the co-director of the Center for Research on Health and Aging at the University of Illinois at Chicago, helped develop Fit & Strong, which is an evidence-based physical activity program for seniors with osteoarthritis.2 The coaches make an individualized plan that covers what they will be doing, when they are going to do it, and who they will be doing it with. Hughes also reminds them that the plan must be made enjoyable so they will be consistent with it. This study helped to show the major benefits one can acquire from even small amounts of physical activity and how it not only helps prevent injury and speed up recovery but also helps one maintain a healthy weight and have a better overall mentality. All of these factors combined makes one significantly less likely to become disabled towards the end of their lives.
- Thomas M. Gill, Jack M. Guralnik; Marco Pahor, et al. Effect of Structured Physical Activity on Overall Burden and Transitions Between States of Major Mobility Disability in Older Persons: Secondary Analysis of a Randomized, Controlled Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2016; 10: 7326/M16-0529
- Kaiser Health News Website. http://khn.org/news/exercise-even-in-small-doses-offers-tremendous-benefits-for-senior-citizens/. Accessed November 11th, 2016.