Guest editorial: Prioritizing physical activity in the daily lives of seniors

Physical activity is medicine: Discussing benefits and tips to being active as we age

The benefits of physical activity for older adults are as multiple as the options for activity available. For instance, exercise is proven to have physical, cognitive, social, and emotional benefits [i]. Likewise, engaging in physical activity has demonstrated a positive effect on chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia [ii].

Peter Young

The advantages of physical activity are so vast that Dr. Robert N. Butler, director of the National Institute on Aging, went as far to say that “If exercise could be packed into a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed, and beneficial, medicine in the nation” [iii]. Unfortunately, engaging in physical activity is not as easy as taking a pill, and most older adults in Canada fail to reach the minimum 24-hour movement guidelines [iv].

So how can we get active, and similarly, how do we stay active? Here are four tips I recommend from personal experience working with older adults.

  1. Choose activities that you enjoy.
    Contrary to popular belief, physical activity does not need to occur in a weight room or fitness centre. It does not have to be sweaty, painful, expensive, or overly time-consuming. Exercise has every potential to be an enjoyable experience if we orient ourselves towards things that we enjoy doing.
  2. Make it social.
    Tying into my first tip, creating a social environment for activity can make it a more enjoyable experience. Additionally, having a fraternity around physical activity creates group accountability. This accountability might be the extra ounce of motivation needed to get moving.
  3. Have a plan.
    A good exercise plan has a couple of components. First, we need a goal or a reason for engaging in physical activity in the first place. What is our reason for getting active, and why is this reason essential to us? Second, we need to think about the actions we will take to get us toward this goal. Third and finally, it is beneficial to plan when and where we will get active.
  4. Take advantage of life’s little opportunities to be more active.
    Our lives present many small chances to become more active. Even a few minutes a day can add up over the week. For example, can we park toward the back of the grocery store parking lot or take the stairs instead of the escalator? Keep your eyes peeled for small opportunities to be active, and you will begin to see them everywhere.

Being physically active is not about crafting the “perfect” exercise routine. Instead, I would challenge all readers to do a little more than they did yesterday. Be curious about what your body can do and try not to mentally limit yourself due to your age. A fantastic component of physical activity is that it is never too late to make a positive change. Can you start yours today?

Bio: Peter Young is a graduate student and working member of the Aging and Population Health Lab at Simon Fraser University. His passion for developing accessible physical activity for older adults is driven by years of hands-on experience as a personal trainer.

END NOTES

[i] Mcphee JS, French DP, Jackson D, Nazroo J, Pendleton N, Degens H. Physical activity in older age: perspectives for healthy ageing and frailty. Biogerontology. 2016;17:567-580. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10522-016-9641-0

[ii] Reiner M, Niermann C, Jekauc D, Woll A. Long-term benefits of physical activity – a systematic review of longitudinal studies. BMC Public Health. 2013;13:813. Available from:
https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-13-813

[iii] Butler RN. Public interest report No. 23: Exercise, the neglected therapy. Int J Aging Hum Dev. 1978;8(2):193-195. Available from: https://doi.org/10.2190/AM1W-RABB-4PJY-P1PK

[iv] Watt J, Colley RC. Youth—but not adults—reported less physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics Canada. 2021. Available from: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/45-28-0001/2021001/article/00032-eng.htm