Walking is the most popular exercise for active seniors.
Walking is the most popular exercise for active seniors. Ron Chapple / Getty Images

Vary exercise for fitter senior years

MOST elderly people engage in only one type of physical activity, if any, a new study has shown.

This activity tends to be aerobic exercise, mostly walking which needs to be coupled with other exercise forms to enhance fitness.

The study, featured in the May 2012 issue of The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, published by Sports Medicine Australia, looked at physical activity in Australians aged over 65.

The study highlighted that an increase in participation in balance-enhancing activities and muscle strengthening was needed to maximise health benefits.

Lead author of the study Merom Dafna, from the University of Western Sydney, School of Science and Health, said that to maximise health gains in old age, the elderly needed to engage in a range of activities that improved not only cardiorespiratory fitness but also muscle strength, flexibility and balance.

"At age 65, Australian men and women are expected to live an additional 18 and 20 years respectively, and are facing the challenges of aging successfully," Dr Dafna said.

"Participation in regular physical activity, and the types of physical activity undertaken, may discriminate between adults who successfully age from those who do not."

Results from the study showed that of those surveyed, 32% had not exercised at all in the past year, and 40% participated in one type of activity. Of those, 53% engaged exclusively in walking.

The top four prevalent sports for men and women combined after walking (45.6%) were bowls (9.9%), aerobics/calisthenics (9.1%), golf (7.7%) and swimming (6.4%).

Gym work, cycling, tennis, dancing, fishing, tai chi, weight lifting and yoga were reported by less than 5% of older adults.

"Walking may not provide optimal protection for prevalent adverse health conditions. For example, the most efficacious exercise programs for falls prevention were those that included high- challenge balance training, for example tai chi," Dr Dafna said.

"While those that only walked are one step ahead of those not participating in physical activity at all, to improve their health, they should increase their participation in a wide range of activities that will improve balance, coordination and reaction time."

Dr Dafna said more research on what sorts of enjoyable physical activity preserved successful aging was needed.


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