While it’s proven that older people tend to slow down with age, the notion that seniors should trade in their active lifestyles for bingo and rocking chairs is definitely antiquated, says Denver Physical Therapist Patrick Donovan.
And yet, when it comes to exercise for the active aging adult, plenty of myths continue to drive people’s actions – or rater, inactions – when it comes to putting in the right amount of sweat equity to stay healthy and active.
“From a purely physiological perspective, sure, you’re going to start to slow down a little here and there as you get older, but that doesn’t mean you should accept the consequences of your age,” said Dr. Donovan, owner of Heather Lane Physical Therapy in Denver. “We all have a biological age and a physiological age. You may have knees of a 50-year-old, hips of a 60-year-old, and the balance of an 80-year-old. Your exercise routine should resolve these physiological limitations. Regular exercise can strengthen your weakest age-related area – whether that’s knee pain, hip pain, or balance.”
To help encourage the 55-and-older crowd to make exercise a standard aspect of their everyday lives, Dr. Donovan provided a list of his top five exercise myths for older adults:
Myth 1: “It’s Too Late to Start” – It doesn’t matter what you’ve done before now, Dr. Donovan says. Even if you’ve never had a regular exercise routine before, it’s never too late to start. Exercising later in life can lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Myth 2: “My Body’s Too Frail” (aka, “I Might Break a Hip”) – Unless a medical physician has told you this based on a very specific condition, this is likely fear talking. Not only does regular exercise help strengthen your body’s stability, balance and flexibility, but Dr. Donovan points out it can also reduce your risk of falling.
Myth 3: “I Have Joint Pain, so I Should Stay Away from Exercise” – Dr. Donovan says, Exercise is like lubrication for the joints. A joint in motion will ward off stiffness and fatigue. PTs are movement experts that can modify exercises based on other conditions. For instance, if your wrists hurt during a wall push-up, then try adding a towel roll to offload the pressure on your wrists.
Myth 4: “I’m Too Old for Weight Training” – Weight training, also known as resistance or strength training, actually takes on a more critical role as you age. According to Dr. Donovan, not only does a stronger body help seniors stay upright and confident, but weight-bearing exercise is proven to prolong the onset of osteoporosis by helping maintain bone density.
Myth 5: “I’m Better Off Focusing on My Mind, Not My Body” – Fact is, focusing on the body is focusing on the mind, says Dr. Donovan. According to a research article published last month in Nature Medicine, exercise improves brain health, helps ward off dementia, and is a front-line treatment for dementia.
According to 2018 physical guidelines by the U.S. Department of Health, older adults should shoot for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, plus weekly balance and muscle strengthening exercises. A search engine is a great place for generalized treatment suggestions. But for unique recommendations customized to your deficits and pain, find a Physical Therapist near you.