Active Retired Blog – the benefits of staying fit as we get older.
For our July series of blogs we are going to switch themes again. Our aim each month is to give you a taste of what physiotherapy, and our clinic in particular, has to offer different client groups. Our blog series for July will focus on the older individual. This is especially important in Ireland at present as statistics show that our population is aging. 11% of our population is over 65 now and by 2041 it is predicted that this will have doubled to 22%. Trends show that over the same period the number of people over 85 years old will have quadrupled. It follows that the incidence of chronic illness will rise dramatically and hence the cost of care for this section of society will follow suit.
The benefits of staying fit and healthy for this demographic are long established. Older people who walk outdoors at least four times each week for a minimum of 15 minutes have a 50% lower risk of mortality than those who walk less frequently. Moderate to high levels of physical activity in the 50+ age group leads to a 50-56% reduction in the odds of having depressive symptoms. It has been proven that engaging in physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, preserves functional ability, improves psychological health and improves brain function.
So now that we know exercise benefits older adults we need to look at what is actually happening in this population group. Recent research by the Centre for Aging and Research in Ireland has show that physical activity declines with age. Adults aged 75+ years are on average 2.5 times more likely than 60-64 year olds to be insufficiently active. Women are less likely to be sufficiently physically active , almost 2 times less active than men of the same age group. People who have physical, psychological or mental health disorders are the groups most likely to report inactivity. Older adults who do stay active say that participation in sports such as cycling, swimming, golfing, aerobics, dance and jogging as their preferred exercise, so it is important that a transition from team sports to individual sports is available for middle-aged to older adults.
A valid question at this stage is why do levels of physical activity decrease with age? A Northern Ireland research paper in 2010 showed that the main reason for this is that older age groups have a perception that they are not able, they have safety concerns and they don’t have access to activities specifically designed for them. A study in Scotland in 2004 showed lack of interest to be the most important deterrent and this was thought to be due to a lack of understanding of the benefits of physical exercise.
The next question is how much exercise should older adults do? National guidelines on physical activity recommend that older adults engage in 150 minutes of moderately intense activity each week to achieve both physical and cognitive health benefits. Healthy Ireland has a target of increasing by 20% the proportion of the population undertaking regular physical activity by 2025.
Now you know why you should exercise. In the next few blogs for July we will go into more detail as to what older adults should be doing as regards exercise, the specific benefits of different forms of exercise and how to do it safely.