Substantial health benefits occur with a moderate
amount of activity (e.g., at least 30 minutes of brisk walking) on 5 or more
days of the week. Additional health benefits can be gained through longer
duration of physical activity or more vigorous activity. Brief episodes of
physical activity, such as 10 minutes at a time, can be beneficial if repeated.
Sedentary persons can begin with brief episodes and gradually increase the
duration or intensity of activity.
Older persons can benefit further from
activities aimed at building or maintaining muscle strength and balance. A
recent review of individually tailored programs for elderly people demonstrated
that programs to build muscle strength, improve balance, and promote walking
significantly reduced falls in older persons. Experts recommend that older
adults should participate at least 2 days a week in strength training activities
that improve and maintain muscular strength and endurance. Older adults should
also perform physical activities that enhance and maintain flexibility. However,
older adults are sensitive to the effects of physical activity, and even small
amounts of activity are healthier than a sedentary lifestyle.
Older adults with chronic illnesses or
disabilities can gain significant health benefits with a moderate amount of
physical activity, especially if it is done daily. Physical activity need not be
strenuous to bring health benefits. What is important is to include activity as
part of a regular routine. Moderate amounts of low-impact activities such as
swimming, water exercises, or stretching are recommended for those who have
difficulty with their mobility. There are various low-impact exercises that can
be done by those who have certain disabilities, such as wheelchair exercises and
games, muscle-strengthening activities to help improve the ability to perform
daily tasks, and strength training exercises such as calisthenics or light
weight lifting. Gentle forms of yoga and tai chi are designed to promote
flexibility, improve balance, and increase strength as well.