Exercise and Seniors: Common Myths

One of the top myths in geriatric healthcare is that older adults in their retirement years cannot benefit from regular exercise. To correct the record: This myth is busted.

Aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises, or some kind of regular physical activity, can improve the quality of life for adults at any age. And if you are in your 60s, 70s, 80s or older, and you get a doctor’s go-ahead, there are many benefits, such as preventing or managing chronic conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure and even painful arthritis.

“Some of my patients who are older or obese are less likely to start exercising,” said Rozan Razzouk, M.D., a family medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care in South Miami. “That’s mostly because they’ve grown accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle.”

But it’s never too late to start exercising (another myth busted), she adds.

“Regular exercise can help slow down cognitive decline as we age,” said Dr. Razzouk. “Physical activity can help sharpen the mind, as well as minimizing or preventing chronic disease such as diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and overall heart disease.”

Here are the top myths related to exercise and seniors:

Myth: Exercise isn’t safe for me because I could fall and break a hip.
Even though this is a distinct possibility, there are precautions older adults can take, especially in the form of exercise for improving balance and flexibility.  “Many are willing to start an exercise program, but others are afraid of falling or hurting themselves,” said Dr. Razzouk. “That’s why we recommend balance and flexibility exercises to make sure they are capable and gain confidence in their ability.”

Myth: I have joint pain and arthritis, so I shouldn’t exercise.
Just because you have a chronic condition such as arthritis, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise. In many cases, it’s quite the contrary. Exercise can help minimize the effects or risk factors associated with diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.  Studies have also shown that exercising helps with arthritis pain. Although, exercise should be avoided during painful flare-ups of arthritic conditions, Dr. Razzouk says.

Myth: Exercise only benefits the body.
As Dr. Razzouk already stated, exercise can combat cognitive decline common with aging. Many people are unaware that physical activity can also help fight depression. Studies have found that exercise strengthens connections in the brain and eases the impact of stress.

Myth: It’s too late for exercise to make a difference in my health.
This is one of the most common misconceptions. As long as you are able, exercise can improve the body and mind, and prevent chronic conditions from developing or worsening. Studies have found that even in people living in nursing homes and in their 90s can benefit from some exercise to boost muscle strength. Daily casual walks or cycling can also benefit older adults.

Guidelines for Adults 65 and Older
If you are 65 years of age or older, are generally fit and have no limiting health conditions, you can follow these guidelines, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Two hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and;
  • Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

“It’s always important for seniors to get their regular checkups, and if they have any doubts, to consult with their doctor about starting an exercise program,” said Dr. Razzouk. “With a doctor’s assistance, they can determine how much they can tolerate.”

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