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Posted: November 14, 2008

Keeping Seniors Healthy

Exercise at Any Age ? But Safely

Q. I’ve heard from several sources ? friends and professionals ? that my 73-year-old mother should exercise more. But she’s afraid that at her age, she I might damage something. What should I think? Is she safer as a couch potato?

All the current scientific evidence shows that seniors should exercise, even though many older people think it could harm them. Study after study demonstrates that seniors hurt their health a lot more by being sedentary.

If you’re inactive, you deteriorate. Physical activity can help restore your capacity. Most older adults, regardless of age or condition, will benefit from increasing physical activity to a moderate level.

Warning: If you want your mother to begin a new exercise program, you should consult her physician and request a list of exercises that are best for her age and physical condition.

Four types of exercise are important for good senior health. These are exercises for strength, balance, stretching and endurance.

Strength exercises build muscle and raise metabolism. Doing these exercises will help to keep your mom’s weight down.

Balance exercises help prevent falls and, therefore, will keep your mom from so-easily breaking a bone and losing her independence. Each year, US hospitals have 300,000 admissions for broken hips; many of them are the result of falls among the elderly.

Stretching exercises give your mom more freedom of movement. And endurance exercises raise her pulse and breathing.

Here are 10 tips to make any exercise program safe:

  1. Don't hold your breath during strength exercises. This could affect your blood pressure.

  2. When lifting weights, use smooth, steady movements. Breathe out as you lift or push a weight, and breathe in as you relax.

  3. Avoid jerking or thrusting movements.

  4. Avoid locking the joints of your arms and legs into a strained position.

  5. Some soreness and slight fatigue are normal after muscle-building exercises; exhaustion, sore joints, and painful muscle pulls are not normal.

  6. Always warm up before stretching exercises.

  7. Stretching should never cause pain, especially joint pain.

  8. Never bounce into a stretch; make slow steady movements instead.

  9. To prevent injuries, use safety equipment such as helmets for biking.

  10. You should be able to talk during endurance exercises.

Measuring your mother’s progress can motivate her (and you). Test her before starting to exercise to get a baseline score. Test and record her scores each month. The following are some tests you can use, if her doctor approves.

For endurance, see how far she can walk in exactly six minutes. For lower-body strength, time her as she walks up a flight of stairs as fast as she can safely. For upper-body strength, record how much weight she lifts and how many times she can lift that weight. For balance, time her as she stands on one foot, without support, for as long as possible. Be sure you stand near her in case she loses her balance. Repeat the test while standing on the other foot.

Remember, above all, exercise should make her feel better ? and you somewhat relieved about her condition.

Fred Cicetti is a freelance writer who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey. He has written two published novels: Saltwater Taffy, and Local Angles. You can send your health-related questions to Fred at

© 2008 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.
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