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Staying in Motion in Your Golden Years: Active and Healthy

Being active at an older age: what type of physical activity is recommended, how much time should we spend exercising and what should we be concerned with?

eThe greatest medical advances of recent decades have brought about a discernable and significant rise in life expectancy, and on average, we are all expected to live longer. However, this blessed rise in life expectancy brings with it the need to make an effort to maintain and improve the quality of life: independence, ongoing daily function, and reducing the incidence of injuries, falls, and chronic and non-chronic illnesses. In almost all of these cases, there is one sweeping recommendation that may improve the condition – physical activity .

Many studies have identified the wide variety of benefits of physical activity: improved functioning, reduced risk of disability, prevention of cardiovascular diseases, coping with and prevention of various types of cancer, metabolic disorders, and cognitive and mental health problems. For instance, a study by the University of Florida that was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 18% more of people who were active on a regular basis maintained their independent mobility, compared to those who were not active.

Benefits of physical activity in older ages

  • Improving physical fitness with emphasis on muscles, bones, blood vessels, heart and respiratory system
  • Reducing the risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, various cancers, depression and more
  • Improving balance and stability, thus reducing the risk of falls
  • Bone strengthening – reducing the risk of hip or vertebral fractures
  • Maintaing a healthy weight
  • Improving joint flexibility and motion
  • Improving functioning and being more independent
  • Improving your mood

Video: Efsharibari at home (in Hebrew)

A 2017 comprehensive international report entitled Physical Activity and Rehabilitation in Elderly also indicated that physical activity is highly beneficial and important for the elderly. However, the reports suggested the time dedicated to physical activity in the elderly population was insufficient.

What should you do and when?

Recommendations from WHO for physical activity for the golden years (65+)

Even in older ages, it is important to dedicate a cumulative amount of time to weekly activities in accordance with one of the following, or a combination of them:
First option – Moderate: 150 minutes (two and a half hours) a week of moderate exercise (walking, running and the like, which increase your heart rate to a point at which you can still hold a conversation).
Another option – vigorous: alternately, 75 minutes (an hour and a quarter) of vigorous physical activity  (higher heart rate and breathing, making it difficult to speak without breathing heavily).
Third option – Both: a combination of the moderate and vigorous exercise routines throughout the week (in accordance with the time recommendations above).

Further recommendations on physical activity

  • If your health and free time allow, it is advised to increase the amount of physical activity and reach 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week (five hours in total in the course of 7 days), or 150 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week (two and half hours in the course of 7 days) after consulting a physician.
  • It is recommended to do moderate or high-intensity balance and strength exercises at least three times a week to improve health and prevent falls, as part of the weekly physical activity.
  • Muscle strengthening activities should be done for large muscle groups (legs, back and so on) in moderate to high intensity at least twice a week.

Finally, here are some ideas that may help you integrate physical activity into your daily routine

  • Choose a fun activity – it is easier to keep doing an interesting and enjoyable activity. You can try yoga, dancing, pilates, spinning and other exercises.
  • Shared exercise - if you train witha a group or with friends, the social gathering may help you be consistent and boost your motivation.
  • Available exercise - choose an accessible activity, maybe near home. In some areas there are special activites for older adults.
  • Prepare a training program – it will help you allocate time to all types of activities and increase the pace gradually. You can track your exercises with a "training journal" that may help you assess your improvement and boost your motivation.
  • Exercise anywhere - remeber that even if you cannot go outside, you can exercise at home. Even there you can enjoy all the benefits of physical activity.

In conclusion, it is very important to reduce the sedentary time in older ages. You can enjoy many benefits by moving more and sitting less, regardless of the level of intensity. To reduce the harmful effects of sedentary behavior on your health, it is recommended to be physically active more frequently. Every minute counts!

Video: exercising at home (in Hebrew)

Further reading

“Anyone Can” Guide for Elderly Walking Companions, EfshariBari, Ministry of Health and Joint-Eshel (Hebrew)
WHO Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health 65 Years and Above (2020)
Encouraging physical activity in the golden years - just keep moving (downloadable poster in Hebrew)
Encouraging physical activity in the golden years - just keep moving (downloadable poster in Arabic)
Resistance band exercises (Hebrew)
Video: exercising in the golden years (Hebrew)
Ministry of Health website: the guide "Physical activity for the Elderly" Israel Ministry of Health (Hebrew)
Ministry of Health website: questions and answers about physical activity in the golden years (Hebrew)
Physical Activity and Rehabilitation in Elderly, 2017, full report
Map of sport facilities in Israel (Hebrew)