Merck Manual

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Spotlight on Aging: Exercising Safely

Spotlight on Aging: Exercising Safely

Most older people can safely exercise. Exercise even helps relieve some disorders, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. However, older people should check with their doctors before they start an exercise program.

Exercise programs for older people should include activities to promote flexibility and agility as well as those for strengthening and aerobic conditioning. Older people are more likely to injure themselves than younger people who are participating in the same sport. Proper footwear and equipment are important.

People need to begin gradually and build up slowly. As with people of all ages, a careful warm-up period is key to reducing the chance of injury. Aging causes a decrease in flexibility because of changes in connective tissue. Older people are also more likely to have arthritis, which further decreases flexibility. Lack of flexibility means that joints bear greater stress during exercise, rather than spreading it to surrounding tissues, such as nearby muscles. This stress can gradually damage the joints. Extra warm-up and flexibility exercises can help prevent injury.

Older runners are subject to the same running-related sports injuries as younger runners. Older runners are also more likely to fall. Often, balance deteriorates in older people, so older athletes may want to consider adding balance exercises to their workouts. Dehydration can lead to episodes of confusion, which could possibly cause falls in older people.