Experts stress that to get the most out of your workout, you need a regimen that incorporates strength training and aerobic and balance exercises.
Aerobic exercises include activities that get your heart rate up— for example, walking, dancing, swimming, jogging, tennis and yard work. The recommendation is 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity (you should be able to hold a conversation while working out) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (almost out of breath), which is equivalent.
If you’ve been more sedentary than not, it’s a good idea to ease into your aerobic workout. In fact, growing evidence suggests that brief bouts of moderate-intensity exercise are beneficial, too. What’s more, even standing and light activity once every hour are better than long periods of simply sitting.
Balance exercises should be performed two to three times weekly—standing from a sitting position or walking on your tiptoes or heels, for example. Yoga and tai chi are also good options for improving balance and coordination.
A three-pronged approach
Results from the Senior Fitness and Prevention (SEFIP) study demonstrate the benefits of such a workout plan. For the study, 246 women were randomly assigned to participate in an exercise program or a wellness program. Both groups exercised four times a week during the 18-month study; the exercise group performed intensive strength, aerobic and balance exercises while the wellness group walked five to 10 minutes four times a week and completed other low-level physical activities.
At the end of the study, the exercise group enjoyed substantial improvements in bone mineral density (BMD) measured at the hip and spine. By comparison, the wellness group’s average BMD improved only slightly in the spine and actually decreased at the hip. The exercise group also experienced 66 percent fewer falls and half as many bone fractures as the wellness group.
More findings highlighting the importance of a well-rounded exercise workout come from the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study, published in 2014 in JAMA. Researchers randomly assigned 1,635 sedentary men and women who had some difficulty performing daily activities—such as walking, getting out of chairs or climbing stairs—to participate in a moderate-intensity physical activity program or go to a health education group.
The physical activity intervention involved walking (with a goal of 150 minutes each week) strength-training exercises (primarily lower extremity strength training using ankle weights) and balance training. The health education group attended workshops that promoted successful aging. Participants in both groups performed gentle upper extremity stretching exercises to improve flexibility, and they were followed for an average of 2.6 years.
At the end of the study, the exercise group members were significantly less likely than the other participants to have experienced major mobility disability—defined as the inability to walk four blocks (a quarter of a mile). If you’re an older adult, staving off disability is important because it could help you maintain your independence and enhance your quality of life.