Few factors contribute so much to successful aging as regular physical activity, and it's never too late to start, says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.
"Even moderate activity can make a real difference in a person's health and well-being," Reames points out.
The LSU AgCenter nutritionist notes that frail health associated with aging is often the result of physical inactivity, but an active lifestyle helps people live independently longer.
Although the benefits of physical activity increase with more frequent or intense activity, even moderate levels of activity - such as washing a car or raking leaves - can produce substantial benefits. These benefits can be even more pronounced in older adults.
Benefits can include preventing or delaying chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as reducing the risk of colon cancer and improving the ability to function with arthritis and lung disease.
Few older Americans achieve the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ minimum recommended 30 or more minutes of physical activity on five or more days a week. About 28 percent to 34 percent of adults ages 65-74 and 35 percent to 44 percent of adults over age 75 are inactive, meaning they report no leisure-time moderate activity.
"Lack of physical activity and poor diets are the major causes of an epidemic of obesity that is affecting the elderly as well as younger populations," Reames says.
By 2030, the number of older Americans is expected to double from 35 million to 70 million people. Already, almost one-third of total U.S. health care expenditures is for older adults. Given this aging trend, the impact of a lack of physical activity on medical care costs is likely to grow as a result of an aging population, unless trends in physical activity change.
"No one is too old to enjoy the benefits of regular exercise," the nutritionist emphasizes, explaining, "Healthy lifestyles, which include proper nutrition, are more influential than genetic factors in avoiding deterioration traditionally associated with aging." Caregivers caring for their family members and friends also benefit greatly from regular exercise.
To become more active, individuals should find activities that are enjoyable and make them a daily part of life. Set specific activity goals that gradually increase.
"The importance of physical activity to older Americans can't be stressed too much," Reames says, adding that the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health has published the booklet "Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging" with information for older Americans on beginning an exercise routine. It is available at http://www.nia.nih.gov/exercisebook/
For information on related family and consumer topics, visit the FCS Web site at http://www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/
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