Regular physical activity has beneficial effects on
most (if not all) organ systems, and consequently it prevents a broad range of
health problems and diseases. Physical activity in older persons produces three
types of health benefits:
- It can reduce the risk of developing chronic
diseases such as heart disease.
- It can aid in the management of active
problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, or high cholesterol.
- It can improve the ability to function and
stay independent in the face of active problems like lung disease or
Although the benefits of physical activity
increase with more frequent or more intense activity, substantial benefits are
evident even for those who report only moderate levels of activity—i.e. washing
a car for 60 minutes, raking leaves for 30 minutes, or brisk walking or swimming
for 20 minutes. All of the benefits of physical activity are especially
important for older men and women since they are more likely to develop chronic
diseases and are more likely to have conditions such as arthritis that can
affect their physical function.
Regular physical activity has beneficial effects
on a variety of health outcomes, effects that are supported by consistent
scientific evidence. These include:
- Lower overall mortality. Benefits were
greatest among the most active persons but were also evident for individuals
who reported only moderate activity.
- Lower risk of coronary heart disease. The
cardiac risk of being inactive is comparable to the risk from smoking
- Lower risk of colon cancer.
- Lower risk of diabetes.
- Lower risk of developing high blood pressure.
Exercise also lowers blood pressure in individuals who have hypertension.
- Lower risk of obesity.
- Improved mood and relief of symptoms of
- Improved quality of life and improved
- Improved function in persons with arthritis.
- Lower risk of falls and injury.
Additional possible benefits of physical
activity (research is less consistent) include:
- Lower risk of breast cancer.
- Prevention of bone loss and fracture after
- Lower risk of developing depression.
- Improved quality of sleep.
Research studies have demonstrated these
benefits in both middle-aged and in older persons, and in men and women. Because
these chronic diseases increase with age, older persons may benefit even more
than those in middle-age from physical activity. A recent study of older men in
Baltimore demonstrated that leisure time activity was more important for
protecting against heart disease in men over 65 than in younger men.
Of great importance to older adults, regular
physical activity sustains the ability to live independently. Research has shown
that virtually all older adults can benefit from regular physical activity. In
particular, the mobility and functioning of frail and very old adults can be
improved by regular physical activity. The large potential ability of regular
physical activity to prevent chronic diseases and sustain active living means
that an active lifestyle is a key component of healthy and successful aging.
In those older adults with chronic diseases,
physical activity can play an important role in treatment. Physical activity is
effective in treating cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high
cholesterol, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, and osteoarthritis.