Studies continue to show that it is never too late to start exercising. Elderly adults who exercise twice a week can significantly increased their body strength, flexibility, balance, and agility. Studies show that even small improvements in physical fitness and activity can prolong life and independent living. A recent study based on a 35-year follow-up showed that in men who increased their physical activity at age 50, the reduction in mortality rate was similar to that of smoking cessation. In fact, after 10 years of increased physical activity, these men had the same mortality rate for their age group as men who were highly physically active throughout entire adult their lives.

Still, about half of Americans over 60 describe themselves as sedentary (inactive). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 12% of people aged 65 – 75 years, and 10% of people aged 75 years or older, meet current recommendations for strength training.

The following tips for exercising may be helpful:

Start low and go slow. For sedentary, older people, one or more of the following programs may be helpful and safe: Low-impact aerobics, gait (step) training, balance exercises, tai chi, self-paced walking, and lower legs resistance training, using elastic tubing or ankle weights. Even in the nursing home, programs aimed at improving strength, balance, gait, and flexibility have significant benefits.

Strength training assumes even more importance as one ages, because after age 30 everyone undergoes a slow process of muscular weakening (atrophy). This process can be reduced or even reversed by adding resistance training to an exercise program. As little as 1 day a week of resistance training improves overall strength and agility. Strength training also improves heart and blood vessel health.

Flexibility exercises promote healthy muscle growth and help reduce the stiffness and loss of balance that accompanies aging.

Chair exercises may be performed by people who are unable to walk.

Older women are at risk for incontinence accidents during exercise. This can be reduced or prevented by performing Kegel exercises, limiting fluids (without risking dehydration), going to the bathroom frequently, and using leakage prevention pads or insertable devices.