While it’s expected that most older people tend to slow down with age, the notion that seniors and soon-to-be seniors should trade in exercise and their active lifestyles for bingo and rocking chairs is definitely antiquated, say physical therapists.
And yet, when it comes to exercise for the 55-and-older population, plenty of myths continue to drive people’s actions – or rather, inactions – when it comes to putting in the right amount of sweat equity to stay healthy and active.
From a physiological perspective, sure, most people are going to start to slow down in various ways as they get older, but that doesn’t mean seniors and soon-to-be seniors should lean into these so-called consequences of aging. Age is just a number, they say. And while one must be mindful about the ways in which they adapt activities to certain age-related limitations, regular exercise remains just as critical later in life as at any other point.
To help encourage the 55-and-older crowd to continue making exercise a standard aspect of their everyday lives, here is a list of the top five exercise myths when it comes to fitness at an advanced age:
Myth 1: “It’s Too Late to Start” – It doesn’t matter what you’ve done before now. Even if you’ve never had a regular exercise routine before, it’s never too late to start. “Better late than never” when it comes to exercise isn’t just an adage; it’s a statement backed by multiple studies. Exercising later in life can lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Myth 2: “My Body’s Too Frail” (aka, “I Might Break a Hip”) – Unless you’ve been told this by a medical professional (i.e., physician or physical therapist) based on a specific condition or injury, this is likely fear talking. Not only does regular exercise help strengthen your body’s stability, balance and flexibility, reducing the chances of a fall, but it can also help strengthen your bones. (More on that later.)
Myth 3: “I Have Joint Pain, so I Should Stay Away from Exercise” – Again, the opposite is true. According to medical research, it’s crucial people with arthritis partake in regular exercise. Not only does it improve strength and flexibility, but exercise can also reduce joint stiffness and pain while helping sufferers ward off fatigue.
Myth 4: “I’m Too Old for Weight Training” – Weight training, also known as resistance and strength training, actually takes on a more critical role as you age. Studies show that not only does a stronger body help seniors stay upright and confident, but weight-bearing exercise can also ward off the onset of osteoporosis by helping maintain bone density.
Myth 5: “I’m Better Off Focusing on My Mind, Not My Body” – Fact is, focusing on the body is focusing on the mind. According to multiple studies, including one published last month in Nature Medicine, exercise improves brain health, helps ward off dementia, and may even slow the progression of dementia. In addition, exercise reduces stress and anxiety, and staying active often equates to a better social life.
According to 2018 physical guidelines by the U.S. Department of Health, older adults should shoot for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, plus weekly balance and muscle strengthening exercises.
And while fitness levels and certain limitations shouldn’t keep most older adults from exercise, some exercises may require modifications based on such conditions. Fortunately, a physical therapist can provide personalized guidance based on individual health conditions, movement limitations and physician recommendations.