The National Institute on Aging (NIA) has an answer for everything. And they want older people to exercise. They say it makes you feel better. They also say it extends your life. So they’ve come up with a list of excuses that keep people from exercising and their corresponding answers that resolve them.
One of the 27 Institutes and Centers of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the NIA focuses on leading the broad scientific effort to understand the nature of aging and the diseases and conditions associated with growing older to extend the healthy, active years of life. It is also the primary federal agency supporting and conducting Alzheimer’s disease research.
The NIA has developed a reminder that older adults can print out and tack up on a refrigerator or a mirror or anywhere that might encourage them to, well be encouraged to get active. The “No More Excuses! Overcome Exercise Barriers.” infographic is a reminder that there is an answer to each and every excuse you have for not exercising.
Too busy to exercise? No energy? Too boring? We all have excuses. And these are just some of them. There are so many things that can get in the way of being active, but only if we let them.
Many older adults know they should be more active, but find it hard to fit exercise into their lives. So the NIA wants to offer tips on how Americans can overcome exercise barriers and stop making excuses. They do it through the Go4Life, the NIA’s exercise and physical activity campaign that was designed to help older adults fit physical activity into their daily lives to stay in good health as they age.
The Go4Life site lists the following as the most common excuses for not exercising along with their corresponding solutions for getting moving and improving your health:
- No time? Exercise first thing in the morning or combine physical activity with a task that’s already part of your day.
- Too boring? Do things you enjoy and try new activities to keep exercise interesting and fun.
- Too expensive? Wear a pair of comfortable, non-skid shoes for walking and use soup cans or water bottles to strength train.
- Too tired? Regular, moderate physical activity can help reduce fatigue and even help you manage stress.
The science is clear, says the NIA. Physical activity can help to increase your energy level, improve sleep and empower you to feel more in control. The NIA says not only will regular physical activity improve your ability to do the everyday things you want to do, but it will help you manage and improve diseases like diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis. It can also reduce feelings of depression and stress as well as improve mood and overall well-being; and studies have consistently shown that aerobic exercise can improve a number of aspects of cognition and performance.
In fact, in an article in the journal World Psychiatry, Stuart Biddle, of the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Active Living at Victoria University, in Melbourne, Australia, writes: “The evidence concerning mental health effects is extensive, but still growing. Associations are clear, but more needs to be known about clinical effectiveness for some population groups and conditions, as well as on the underlying causal mechanisms responsible for what ancient societies have always been aware of, i.e., that ‘movement is good for you’ and sloth is associated with poor mental and physical health.”
And according to Dr. R. Scott Turner, who directs the Memory Disorders Program at Georgetown University Medical Center, so far, exercise is the only thing that has “experimental support” in staving off Alzheimer’s disease.
A study of men from 24 general practices in the United Kingdom published last year in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that even small amounts of light physical activity are enough to increase lifespan in older men. According to a TIME article about the 2018 study results, government guidelines recommended that adults get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week, though only about half of American adults actually meet the recommendations.
“In the report, researchers looked at about 1,180 men — average age, 78 — who agreed to wear devices that measured their movements for seven days,” Alexandra Sifferlin wrote in the February 2018 TIME article. “They were followed for about five years. The researchers found that the overall volume of exercise, not necessarily how long or how hard someone exercised in a session, mattered most for longevity.”
So how do older adults find the time and maybe more importantly, the desire to exercise?
There is no doubt among researchers that physical activity is a great way for older adults to gain substantial health benefits and maintain independence, says the NIA.
They suggest starting by making physical activity a routine habit and choosing activities and exercises that are fun, motivate you, and keep you interested. They recommend the following four types of exercise to give older adults a wide range of real-life benefits:
- Endurance or aerobic activities increase your breathing and heart rate and can keep your heart, lungs and circulatory system healthy. Building your endurance improves overall fitness and makes it easier to carry out many of your everyday activities such as keeping up with your grandchildren during a trip to the park, dancing to your favorite songs at the next family wedding, or raking the yard. Endurance exercises may include: brisk walking or jogging; yard work such as mowing, raking and digging; or dancing. You can find some examples here.
- Strength or resistance training exercises make your muscles stronger. They can help you stay independent and carry out everyday activities, such as climbing stairs and carrying groceries. Strength and resistance exercises may include: lifting weights, using a resistance band, or using your own body weight. Strength training will make it easier to lift your carry-on bag into the overhead bin of the airplane, carry groceries in from the car or garden. The NIA recommends trying to strength exercises for all of your major muscle groups on 2 or more days per week for 30-minute sessions each. You can find examples here.
- Balance exercises may help prevent falls, and many lower-body strength exercises will also improve your balance. Balance exercises may help you turn around quickly when you’re on a walk, walk along a cobblestone path without losing your balance or stand on tiptoe to reach something on a top shelf. Balance exercises include: standing on one foot, heel-to-toe walk and Tai Chi. You can find examples here.
- Flexibility exercises can help your body stay limber by stretching your muscles. And flexibility will help you do other exercises as well as your everyday activities such as driving, housecleaning, playing with grandchildren and even just showering and getting dressed. Flexibility exercises also make it easier to bend down to tie your shoes, look over your shoulder as you’re backing out of the driveway or stretch to clean hard to reach areas of the house. Flexibility exercises include can include shoulder and upper arm stretches, calf stretches and Yoga. Examples can be found here.
So how much physical activity do you need? According to the NIA, the goal is to achieve at least 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of moderate-intensity endurance activity per week. “Being active at least 3 days a week is best, but doing anything is better than doing nothing at all,” the NIA contends. “If you cannot do 150 minutes a week because of a health condition, do as much as your condition allows.”
They want to dispel the myth that it is better for older adults to “take it easy” and “save their strength.”
“Regular physical activity is very important to the health and abilities of older people,” the NIA reports. “In fact, studies show that ‘taking it easy’ is risky. For the most part, when older people lose their ability to do things on their own, it doesn’t happen just because they’ve aged. It’s usually because they’re not active. Lack of physical activity also can lead to more visits to the doctor, more hospitalizations, and more use of medicines for a variety of illnesses.”
The NIA also suggests trying something new to peak your interest and get you motivated to continue exercising:
- Love music? Take dancing lessons, sign up for an aerobics or dance class, or walk briskly or jog and listen to your favorite tunes
- Enjoy the outdoors? Play catch with your grandchildren or fetch with your dog, go hiking or rock climbing (but be safe while you do it), or go canoeing.
- Like being with others? Join a soccer or basketball league, make friends in an exercise class, or organize a walking group with friends or coworkers.
- Want to be on your own? Swim laps, spend an hour at the driving range, bike around your neighborhood, or use an exercise video at home.
- Feel the need to multitask? Lift weights while you watch TV, do balance exercises while waiting in line, walk on a treadmill while you listen to an audio book.
One of the best reasons to stay active is the time you can enjoy with your grandchildren. And one of the best ways to stay active is to include your grandchildren in your exercise goals.
The NIA has some suggestions for ways to do just that no matter your grandchildren’s ages:
Infants and Toddlers
- Take them for walks in the stroller and rides on your bike.
- Play games that get your bodies moving—Wheels on the Bus, Pretend We’re Animals, and Hide-and-Seek.
- Sign up for baby yoga or exercise classes.
- Try baby-friendly swimming classes.
- Walk to the park and push their swing.
- Jump rope together.
- Build a fort—indoors or out.
- Play catch, kickball, basketball or soccer.
- Go swimming or biking together.
- Play a video fitness game together.
Teens and Young Adults
- Participate in activities that interest them like hiking, skating or tennis.
- Go golfing or swimming.
- Invite them to join you in physical activities that require two people, such as tennis or ping pong.
- Ask them to help you in the garden or with heavy-duty household chores.
For more information on getting active in the senior years, visit the NIA’s Go4Life.