Effect of physical exercise on health:
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine said that, all parts of the body if used in moderation develop and age slowly, but if they are left unused they become defective in growth, susceptible to disease and age quickly. Physical exercise and activity is a pre-requisite for a healthy life.

Exercise also confers on the elderly, a sense of purpose and achievement. They come to realise that they have more control over their bodies than they imagined. Exercises have a beneficial effect on the course and severity of many diseases.

·                                 The Heart: Regular exercise can prevent the development of high blood pressure. Low BP can also be raised. High cholesterol levels which are a major risk factor in heart attack and stroke are reduced by regular exercise. Heart attack is more common in those with sedentary habits.

·                                 Diabetes: The effective treatment of this disease is influenced by the obesity of an individual. Loss of weight helps prevent and treat diabetes. Mild diabetes is often controlled by diet and exercise which is much preferred in the elderly rather than management by drugs.

·                                 Fractures: As one grows older the bones become weak and brittle, especially in women after menopause. This and other age related changes make the elderly prone to falls. Regular physical exercise, not only increases the muscle tone but also helps the bones retain calcium and remain strong, reducing the incidence of fractures.

·                                 Cancer: Studies have shown that cancer of the large intestines is greater in those who are not physically active. Similarly, breast cancer and cancer of the sex organs rarely affects sportswomen.

·                                 Constipation: Daily physical exercise combined with a high fiber diet can help avoid constipation.

Mental Depression: Exercise increases the blood circulation in all parts of the body promoting a general sense of well-being. While exercising, people tend to take their minds off personal and psychological problems and thus avoid anxiety and depression.


Types of exercises that can be performed by the elderly:
It is the constitution of the individual rather than the age that decides the type of exercise that one can do. Exercises maybe:


Aerobic exercise: This is vigorous exercise that produces a heart rate of 60-70% of one's maximum. It strengthens the cardio-vascular system. It includes, jogging, cycling, skipping and swimming. The heart becomes stronger and the person is able to perform the same amount of physical activity with less effort. It is done three times a week in 15 to 60 min. sessions. It includes a 3-5 min warm-up and cool down.


But Aerobic exercise should be done only after taking advice from a physician.

The best form of aerobic exercise for the elderly is walking. They could walk for about 30 min or 3-5 km a day.


Low-intensity exercise: This places less stress on the heart but plays an important role in marinating and improving the health of a person especially for bone mineralisation, joint flexibility and weight control. It includes, stretching and light calisthenics. Yoga and pranayama and other traditional methods of physical discipline can also be put into this category. Even walking, if performed with less vigour can be put into this category.
The difference between the two types of exercise is not absolute. The same form of exercise when performed with different intensities can be classified differently.


Importance of exercise for the elderly persons:
Whether you're 40 or 60 years old, you can exercise and improve your health. Physical activity is good for your heart, mood, and confidence. Exercising has even helped 80 and 90 year old people living in nursing homes to grow stronger and more independent. Older people, who become more active including those with medical problems, may feel better and have more energy than ever before.


Regular exercise help the elderly to remain active and healthy:
Regular, active exercise such as swimming and running raises your heart rate and may greatly reduce stiffening of the arteries. Stiff arteries are a major cause of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.
People who are physically active are less likely to develop diabetes, or they can control it better if they do have it. Exercise increases the body's ability to control the blood glucose level.

Regular activity, such as walking or gardening, may lower the risk of severe intestinal bleeding in later life by almost half.
Strength training, like lifting weights or exercising against resistance, can make bones stronger, improve balance, and increase muscle strength and mass. This can prevent or slow bone-weakening osteoporosis, and may lower the risk of falls, which can cause hip fractures or other injuries.

Strength training can lessen pain in arthritis. It doesn't cure arthritis, but stronger muscles may ease the strain and therefore the pain.
Light exercise may be good for your mental health.


A few important suggestions regarding exercise for the elderly:

Exercise is better performed early in the morning or in the evening.

·         It should not be done on a full stomach

·         People who have followed a sedentary or quiet lifestyle should begin an exercise program slowly.

·         It is not important how quickly one advances to a higher level of fitness. Becoming fit eventually and maintaining that fitness is what matters.

·         A slow and easy start can avoid muscular-skeletal injuries. Be sure to thoroughly warm up before beginning and cool down gradually by stretching, appropriate to the exercise. This is very important to prevent cramping and other discomforts.

·         Choose activities that you like.

·         Be realistic about what you can do.

·         Exercising in a group is better than doing it alone because it makes it a social event and encourages continuous participation.

·         One has to consult a doctor before starting an exercise program. Also stop and check with your doctor right away if you develop sudden pain, shortness of breath, or feel ill.

·         Choose your method of exercise carefully! Make sure it is suitable for your body type. Avoid high-impact events. Certain exercises should not be performed when people have certain diseases. For e.g.: people with diabetic retinopathy should not perform exercises that involve bending forward too much or standing on their head. People with weak heart should not perform strenuous exercise. Those who have had a heart attack cannot perform any exercise other than walking for a certain period after recovery.

·         Be very certain to remain hydrated by continuously drinking water supplemented with vitamin C and electrolytes while exercising.

·         Even those confined to bed should have some kind of physical activity or at least physiotherapy to avoid bedsores, chest infection, and loss of strength of bones, constipation and depression.

·         Given below are some simple Exercises & Regimens you could follow. There are many myths about Elders Exercising. Here are the myths and realities. You will also find on this page and the one on Physical Fitness, some precautions you should take. Take the advice of your doctor and get started Right Away.

Remember the keywords "Slow & Steady".

Exercising and Elders



Exercise takes too much time. To get in shape one has to exercise for at least two hrs everyday

One has to exercise only for about 30 mts-1hr., 3-4 days a week, to be fit.

Exercise is for people who have been active all their life.

No matter at what age one begins or how inactive one has been, exercise is always beneficial. Just follow some precautions given in these pages, and also take your doctor's advice

Exercise is for young people. It does more harm as one gets older.

In reality, a regular physical activity program can change a person's level of fitness to that of someone 10-15 years younger.

Exercising is expensive

How can walking and simple exercise be expensive?

Caution: The body responds to increased physical activity in these ways. But one has to watch out for warning signs. If these appear one should rest immediately and contact the doctor.

Normal Responses to exercise   No responses to exercise

Abnormal responses to, exercise or "Warning Signs"


Increased heart rate

Severe shortness of breath

Increased breathing rate

Wheezing, coughing, or other difficulty in breathing

Mild to moderate sweating, depending on your exercise level

Cramps, severe pain or muscle aches

Feeling or hearing your heart beat

Excessive perspiration

Muscle aches and tenderness that might last a day or two as you get started

Chest discomfort, pain, pressure or tightness felt in the chest and possibly extending to your left arm or neck

I If a person has not been physically active, one's sense of balance may not be good. Regular physical exercise itself can help restore this balance, but while starting, it would be better to hold onto a chair or do the exercises on the floor. Slow & steady are the key words

Light-headedness, dizziness, fainting. Severe, prolonged fatigue or exhaustion after exercise. Nausea


Some recommended strengthening and flexibility exercises:
Do only those you feel comfortable doing. As your body adjusts to the new activities, you can gradually add more repetitions and other exercises. Start slowly with two-three repetitions of each exercise you choose.


Suggestion: If you have a printer, you could take a print-out of this exercise program.


Strengthening exercises:
1.Finger squeeze: Strengthens hands; good for circulation. Straighten arms in front at shoulder level, palms down. Make a fist, then release. Turn palms up, make a fist and release.
2. Shoulder shrug: Strengthens your back and shoulders, helps relaxation. Lift shoulders up toward your ears, then back, down and relax.
3. Arm circles: Strengthens shoulders and upper back. Start with arms straight out to the side at shoulder level. Rotate arms from shoulders forward, then backward. 
4. Shoulder touch: Increases flexibility of shoulders, elbows and helps tone upper arms. Start with arms straight out to the side at shoulder level. Bend elbow and bring palm of hands to shoulders. Turn palm away and push arm down to start position.  
5. Leg flexion--extension: Strengthens hip muscles. Stand erect, holding onto a chair or table for support. Lift one leg forward, and then back from the hip. Be careful not to lean forward and back. 
6. Side leg lift: Strengthens hip and thigh muscles. Stand erect, holding onto a chair or table for support. Raise one leg out to the side and down. Try not to lean or bring your leg forward. You can try this lying on your side, too! 
7. Alternate leg lunges: Strengthens upper thighs and inside of legs. Also stretches back of leg. Start with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold on to something for support if you like. With your right leg step forward about 18" to 24". Keep the left heel on the floor. Shove off with the right leg and return to the start position. 
8. Calf raises: Strengthens lower leg and ankle. Start with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold onto something for support if you like. Rise up on your toes, lifting heels. Slowly lower yourself back down to your heels. 
9. Leg extension: Strengthens upper thigh muscles and tones lower abdomen. Sitting in chair, back straight, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor, tighten knee and raise foot up. Alternatively repeat this with each leg. 
10. Squat: Strengthens front thigh muscles. Start with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold on to the back of a chair for support. Keep back straight and slowly bend knees as if you are going to sit.  Slowly return to start position. Do not go down too far! This will improve as you get stronger. 
11. Toe raises: Strengthens ankles. Standing or sitting with feet shoulder-width apart, raise your toes up off the floor as if tapping to music. 
12. Ankle circles: Strengthens ankles. Standing or sitting, make circles with each ankle, to the right and then the left. 
13. Abdominal strengthening: Strengthens stomach muscles providing support for your back. Stand or sit straight. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and then slowly exhale through your mouth as if blowing out a candle. Feel your stomach go in as you blow out. Hold stomach tight after blowing out, then relax and repeat. 
14. Sit-up: Advanced abdominal strengthening. Lay on the floor with   your knees bent and feet flat. Reach with your arms toward your knees, raising your head and shoulders off the floor. You should readily feel your stomach muscles tighten. Slowly return head and shoulders to the floor. Work up to doing five-ten repetitions.


Flexibility exercises

1. Neck circles: Maintains joint motion. Standing, or sitting in a chair, slowly move chin over to one shoulder and then to the other as if nodding "no." Slowly lift your chin up slightly and back down toward your chest as if nodding "yes." Repeat several times. 
2. Flexed leg back stretch: Maintains flexibility in torso, low back, and legs. Stand with knees slightly bent and feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly and gently slide hands down front of legs, bringing finger tips toward the floor. You should feel a stretch in the back of your legs. Hold for the count of five when you start to feel the stretch. Stay within your comfort range- no more than five repetitions. 
3. Side bends: Maintains trunk flexibility. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Slide right hand down right leg towards knee. Repeat to left side. Hold five seconds; five repetitions to each side. 
4. Trunk rotation: Maintains trunk flexibility. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Turn from your waist to the right, then left. 
5. Back arch: Stretches abdominal wall, chest, maintains flexibility. Do not do this exercise if you have a history of back problems. 
On stomach: Place hands by shoulders, slowly push up on arms and arch back. Keep hips down. Try to straighten elbows completely if back is comfortable. Return to stomach; three-four repetitions. 
6. Overhead reach: Stretches shoulder girdle and rib cage. Take a deep breath in as you raise your arms overhead. Exhale slowly as you lower your arms behind your head or to your shoulders, then return to your sides. 
7. Achilles stretch: Stretches the calf muscle. Stand facing a wall, with feet two-three feet away. Straighten arms, leaning into the wall. Move left leg forward 1/2 step, right leg backward 1/2 step or more. Keep right heel on floor. Lean toward the wall with weight on forward leg, stretching the heel tendon of the right leg. Hold five-ten seconds. Reverse legs; three-five repetitions. 
8. Shin and quadriceps stretch: Kneel on both knees, turn to right and press down on right ankle with right hand and hold. Keep hips thrust forward. Do not sit on heels. Repeat on left side. 
9. Hip and thigh stretch: Kneel with right knee directly above right ankle and stretch left leg backward so knee touches floor. Place hands on floor or seat of chair for balance.

A walking programme for those who have not been exercising regularly:


3 times a week


in km
























2 1/2



3 1/4



3 1/4






4 1/2



The Talk Test: If one is not able to comfortably carry on a conversation while walking, then one should rest. 5-10 mits after activity the pulse rate should come to pre- activity level. Unusual tiredness one hr after exercise means one has to slow down the pace.


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