Physical Fitness Article:

Moderate physical activity brings major health rewards

by Heidi Keller
Office of Health Promotion Washington State Department of Health

Say the word "exercise" and many of us picture long, hard workout routines in sweaty gymnasiums. But recent health studies have shown that physical activity doesn't need to be strenuous to be good for us.

According to recent health studies, older adults who take part in even moderate daily physical activity can live longer, healthier lives. This represents a new, comprehensive view of physical activity and how it affects health. The studies have shown:

  • Inactive people can improve their health with regular moderate physical activity.
  • Health benefits occur even when the activity is not strenuous.
  • Increasing the amount of the activity results in even greater health benefits.

Regular physical activity that is performed on most days of the week reduces the risk of developing or dying from some of the leading causes of illness and death in the United States. For example, regular activity:

  • Reduces the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer or high blood pressure.
  • Helps reduce blood pressure in people who already have it.
  • Promotes psychological well-being and reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • Helps control weight and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints.

The Healthy Aging Partnership - a coalition of 28 not-for-profit and public health and senior service organizations in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties - has some important tips on ways seniors can stay active and healthy. For information on organized exercise opportunities such as classes at nearby senior activity centers, you can call 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464).

Older adults can especially benefit from regular physical activity to prolong and improve their quality of life. If you have been inactive, start with short intervals of moderate physical activity - 5 or 10 minutes - and gradually build up to the desired amount. If you are just starting an activity program, be sure to consult with your physician first.

Any activities or exercises that make your heart beat faster - equivalent to brisk walking - are considered moderate. To get health benefits, moderate physical activities should be done 30 minutes or more each day, five days a week, for at least 10 minutes at a time.

Everyday activities that could be considered moderate are:

  • Yard work such as raking leaves, mowing the lawn and digging in the garden.
  • Housework like mopping floors, washing windows and vacuuming.
  • Outdoor activities such as walking the dog, hiking, bike riding and waxing the car.

It is better to do some physical activity every day rather than to be a "weekend warrior." For example, try stretching out yard work chores in 20- to 30- minute segments over the week instead of doing them all on Saturday.

When you have achieved the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity per day, you can get even greater health benefits by increasing the frequency, duration and intensity. The most dramatic health benefits come from vigorous activity.

If you have questions about getting more physically active - or if you would like information on any other issue related to life as an older adult - call 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464), a toll-free and confidential information and assistance line. You can also visit the Web site at www.4elders.org. The Healthy Aging Partnership and 1-844-348-KING are co-sponsored by HAP partner agencies, Puget Sound Energy and the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation.

  • Get regular exercise to improve strength, balance and coordination. Exercise also strengthens your bones and makes it easier to recover from injuries.
  • Review with your physician or pharmacist the side effects of any medication you are taking so you can take extra precautions if the medicine causes dizziness or grogginess. Non-prescription drugs can also have these side effects, so be sure to read the labels. Take medicine with food to avoid nausea or dizziness and avoid drinking alcohol when you are taking medications.
  • Keep stairways clear of objects and make sure the carpet is firmly secured to the steps. Don't wear socks on stairs, and always use the handrail.
  • Keep lamp and phone cords out of open areas on the floor. Keep large rugs flat by tacking down edges with double-sided tape, and eliminate small throw rugs that may slip. Don't let newspapers or magazines collect on the floor.
  • Line the bottom of your tub with non-skid mats or adhesive strips. Install and use wall grab bars around the toilet and tub area.
  • Keep stairways, halls and walkways well lighted and install nightlights.
  • Wear low-heeled, lightweight, non-skid and well-fitting shoes.
  • If you are prone to falling, ask a neighbor, friend or relative to check in with you daily. Wearable emergency alert monitors are available that allow you to call 911 with the push of a button.

Finally, check with your county's health department or emergency medical services department to see if they offer free home inspections. Experienced professionals are often available to go into your home and assess the conditions that may lead to a fall.

To find out more about the fall prevention resources that are available to you - or for answers to any other questions that older adults and their caregivers may have about living healthier lives - call the Healthy Aging Partnership's toll-free, confidential information and assistance line at 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464).