Daily physical activity is vital for older adults. While exercise does not prevent aging, it helps improve muscular strength, balance, mobility and the quality of sleep. Physical activity enhances mental wellbeing and memory, while also providing opportunities to forge new friendships.

Adequate daily physical activity leads to the good physical condition that enables older people to live independently at home. Furthermore, exercise contributes significantly to the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of chronic disease.

All older people should avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Daily functional exercise forms an important foundation for everyday life, supplemented by guided physical activity.

The recommended amount of weekly endurance exercise can be easily gained by walking briskly, doing daily chores or cycling every day. In addition, older people need to do strength, balance and joint mobility exercises at least twice a week with the aid of a home gymnastics programme or at a gym.

Regular, progressive and personalised physical exercise improves functional capacity, even in old age. Exercise is ideally based on a holistic and personalised plan, which takes into account the older person’s habits, circumstances, health status, medication and nutrition.

The plan should be drawn up in cooperation between the older person, a physician and a rehabilitation or physical activity professional. The individual’s progress in mobility should be monitored on a regular basis, and the exercise programme should be updated as the individual’s physical fitness improves.

It’s never too late to start
Increasing daily physical activity starts from small everyday life choices: taking the stairs instead of the lift, doing chores around the house or garden, or going to the shops on foot.

Guided exercise groups are organised by municipal sports and health services, local pensioners’, public health and sports organisations, and private sports centres. Safe and accessible pedestrian and bicycle paths, swimming pools, as well as local sports and exercise facilities and gyms intended for senior citizens encourage people to take independent physical activity.

Because it is usually easier to take up exercise together with someone else, rather than on one’s own, it is a good idea to ask a friend to tag along. Indeed, many older adults act as peer exercise instructors in local organisations.

In many cases, people’s interest in a physically active lifestyle is only kindled when they realise the benefits provided by physical activity for their own health and fitness first hand. Unfortunately, physical activity does not offer instant gains – you need to have the patience to carry on regular exercise for a couple of weeks before you notice any changes in your bodily and mental wellbeing.

Tips for increasing physical exercise:
• Start with one physically active task per day, such as walking to the store or repeatedly getting up out of a chair to stand.
• Meet your friend, child or grandchild for physical activity, such as at a swimming pool or on a running path.
• Exercise in nature! It refreshes your mind and reduces stress.
• Find out about the exercise opportunities provided by municipal services and local organisations – everything is allowed for older people too.
• Don’t give up – rather than instant gains, physical activity offers long-term wellbeing for your body and mind.
• Further information about health-enhancing physical activity and exercises for older adults is available on websites such as voitas.fi (in Finnish) and www.voimaavanhuuteen.fi/en.

Text by: Anne Honkanen, Communication Planner for the National Policy Programme for Older People’s Physical Activity, Age Institute

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