Making the Case for Physical Activity Among Older Adults

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There is evidence to support the fact that changes in muscle, bone, and fat that we have previously considered to be a part of “normal aging” are now identified as changes resulting from an energy imbalance. This energy imbalance results from either excess or insufficient energy consumption, decreased energy expenditure from physical activity, or a combination of both factors. For this reason, in addition to eating a healthy diet, older adults are encouraged to engage in safe activities that increase their fitness and flexibility.

Some physical activity is better than none. Sedentary lifestyles have been associated with multiple health risk, including mortality. A sedentary lifestyle has been defined as any waking time when we are lying, sitting, or in a reclined position with an energy expenditure of less than  1.5  metabolic equivalents (MET). Reduced physical activity accounts for the loss of strength and stamina that we experience as we age. For most people, inactivity increases as we get older. According to the Center For Disease Control (CDC), by the age of 75, about one in three men and one in two women engage in no physical activity. Walking, gardening, and yard work are great ways to engage in physical activity for adults age 65 and older. Everyone can play a role in encouraging senior friends and family to enjoy more physical activities.

As we age we become more prone to falling and fracturing bones. Staying active helps us to reduce this risk by improving balance. Exercise can help control blood pressure in some people with hypertension, according to the CDC. Staying fit helps to maintain healthy muscles, bones, and joints, as well as, controls joint swelling and pain resulting from arthritis. Another benefit of physical activity is that it reduces the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

How much exercise should older adults get? Remember, any exercise is better than none at all. The CDC recommends that adults age 65 and older should get 150 minutes of exercise a week. This equals 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Older adults with chronic disease or cannot do 30 minutes of exercise for 5 days a week, should strive to be as active as they are physically able to. Remember that it is important to consult with your physician before starting a new fitness routine.

Here in Richmond County, there is an abundance of opportunities for older adults to get physically active. The county has senior centers, several gyms, and multiple locations perfect for walking. Richmond County Aging Services, located at 225 South Lawrence Street in Rockingham is the perfect place to begin your inquiry about ways to get involved in fun physical activities and learn about the other services offered through the center. For those seeking nontraditional types of exercise, the Hamlet Senior Center, located at 102 Lakeside Drive, Hamlet, NC offers Intermediate Line Dancing on Tuesdays from 10:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. and Beginner Line Dancing classes on Fridays from 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Seniors can also participate in Dance Fitness classes with Ms. Onequa Crump on Wednesdays at from 6:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at Liberty Place, 214 East Washington Street, Rockingham, NC.

As a community there are several ways that we can support the efforts of older adults to become physically active. We can encourage shopping areas, churches, and schools to provide protective areas for older adults to walk. Health care professionals can inform their patients about the benefits of incorporating physical activity into their daily routine. Fitness centers can ensure that their establishment accommodates older adults. Communities can plan activities that provide opportunities for older adults to be physically active, such as the Senior Games, pickle ball, walking clubs, and more.

N.C. Cooperative Extension in Richmond County, NC offers an exercise program developed at Virginia Tech University that is designed especially for older adults. The program is called LifeLong Improvement Through Fitness Together or LIFT. LIFT is an evidence based 8 week healthy lifestyle intervention. The program provides an opportunity for older adults to learn exercise tips, engage in group strength-training. Basic nutrition is also covered during the sessions. Additionally, if your church or community is interested in establishing a walking trail, there are small grants available through the N.C. Cooperative Extension Family and Consumer Science program. To learn more about the LIFT program, community walking trail grants and more health and wellness opportunities for older adults please contact Cheri Bennett at (910) 997-8255, N.C. Cooperative Extension- Richmond County Center.

The Richmond County Cooperative Extension Office helps provide research-based education and technology to the producers and citizens of this great county. The office is located at

123 Caroline St. in Rockingham, and can be reached at  910-997-8255 or richmond.ces.ncsu.edu for more information.