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Dr. Grabinski: Why it’s important to stay active as we get older, and tips to help you along the way

By Dr. Erica Grabinski | Point of View

According to the Centers for Disease Control, older adults represented 16% of the population in 2019, or 1 in every 7 Americans. And by the year 2060, the number of older adults is expected to reach 94.7 million, making up nearly 25% of the US population.

Aging brings a higher risk of serious, chronic diseases and the nation’s leading drivers of illness, disability, deaths and healthcare costs. And with more and more older adults making up the population, focusing on strategies to help you stay healthy as you age is becoming increasingly important.

One of the easiest—and most effective—things you can do?

Develop and maintain regular physical activity habits.

Physically active older adults are less likely to experience falls and are less likely to be seriously injured if they do fall. Physical activity can also help improve balance and strengthen your muscles so you can keep doing your day-to-day activities without becoming dependent on others. And physical activity like walking, bicycling and swimming may decrease arthritis pain, increase your overall quality of life – and even improve your mood.

How much and what types of physical activity are recommended?

Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week is recommended. If chronic conditions or other factors limit your ability to reach this goal, you should be as physically active as your abilities and conditions allow. Remember: Some physical activity is better than none at all. And it’s important to talk to your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level.

If you’re 65 years of age or older, are generally fit and have no limiting health conditions, here are some frequently recommended options:

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity or “cardio” at least 150 minutes per week. This can be anything from pushing a lawn mower to walking or biking to the store.

Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity at least 75 minutes per week. If you’re able to do it, 75 minutes of more vigorous physical activity achieves the same health results as 150 minutes of less vigorous activity. Think running vs. walking.

Muscle strengthening. In addition to your 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, you should focus on activity that strengthens your muscles, at least twice a week. Things like lifting weights at your local gym or an Optum Community Center fulfill this recommendation. But you can also “multitask,” as it were – doing yardwork, joining friends for a yoga group, even cleaning the junk out of that storage closet like you’ve been meaning to. If you feel your muscles tiring, you’re getting a workout!

Balance activities. Also work on things that can help you improve your balance – This can help reduce your risk of falling.

Again, everyone, regardless of age, should talk to their doctor about their individual circumstances and potential limitations before starting a physical fitness routine. If your comfort level, chronic conditions, or other factors keep you from meeting these recommendations, get as much physical activity as you can.

Are there resources out there that can help me along the way?

Growing research shows that joining your friends—or making new friends—in a social environment can help you along your fitness journey. Connecting with others in social activities that you enjoy provides myriad benefits for your overall health, from decreasing loneliness and isolation, to improving brain health.

Our Optum Community Centers, for example, are full of stories of people who visited our no-cost, open-to-the-public facilities to help make a positive change in their life. Stories like the woman who found herself socially isolated and 100 pounds overweight who started attending our Stand, Sit and Be Fit class. She then completed her Fitness Room Orientation which enabled her to add Circuit Training and Strength Training on her own. She enjoys the social aspect of the center so much she challenged herself with classes like Beading, Origami and Let’s make a Wreath. So far in her journey, she’s made countless new friends, and lost over 100 pounds!

However you approach your fitness journey – with a spouse, with friends at a community center, or on your own – you’ll thank yourself in the end for your better health.

Editor’s note: Dr. Erica Grabinski is a primary care physician at Optum Healthcare.

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