The US Census Bureau expects the 65-and-over population to double by the year 2020, putting a significant strain on the healthcare system. Though billions of dollars are spent each year researching new medications to treat disease in the elderly, sometimes the most effective remedy is exercise.
Exercise at any age is important, but for the elderly there can be significant benefits. Studies have shown that regular exercise can help older adults improve bone density as well as reduce the number of falls, arthritic pain, blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease. Exercise can also help improve memory and reduce symptoms of depression. We focus our piece on an 88-year-old woman who takes ballet class three times a week. She's a good example of an older person who's staying healthy by exercising. Health contributor Dr. Jordan Metzl joins us in the studio to talk about the importance of exercise and the elderly.
A lot of people don't think of exercising when they're older. Why?
When we think of athletes, we think of kids, college athletes, or professional athletes. But of any group, the health benefits of exercise are most pronounced in the elderly. They have the most to gain. People don't think exercise makes a difference because they're getting older anyway, but just the opposite is true. In fact, the number 1 cause of morbidity in the elderly is falls. Exercise makes muscles and bones stronger and lessens the likelihood of falling.
Let's say I have a parent at home who's 70. How do I convince him or her to start exercising?
It's never too late. There's exercise for every level for what they want to do. Not everyone can be a ballet dancer like Marianne. The local YMCA often has swimming programs, elder fitness programs, and plenty of things to get involved in. The key is getting there and starting, recognizing that it's never too late.
Should an elderly person first see their doctor before starting an exercise program?
Absolutely. Everybody's different. Some people have perfect health, and some people have diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. How these people exercise is really different, both in what types of exercises they do and how much they do. It's important to see your doctor before starting a program so you can get the most out of exercising.
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