Exercise For Older Adults, Part 2

In the first part of this series, we discussed the difference between physical activity and exercise. Let’s get more in-depth. There are four types of exercise and activity that will provide the greatest benefit:

Resistance training

These are the exercises that are often the highest intensity. Good thing you don’t need to do a whole lot of it! Resistance training uses your own body weight or an additional weight to stimulate your muscles to grow in size and strength.

If there was one type of exercise I’d ask someone to do, strength training would be it (though I would hope never to have to pick just one!). This is because strength training helps limit the loss of muscle mass and strength that starts occurring around age 30 and that occurs much more rapidly after about the age of 50. Maintaining muscle mass and strength means that you’ll also maintain your ability to complete day to day tasks with fewer potential problems, and will be better able to handle health hurdle and injuries that might come your way.

Exercises like squats, seated rows, and chest press or pushups are all excellent examples of strength training exercises, because they use large muscles and multiple joints, so you get the most bang-for-buck. Other strength training exercises like calf raises or bicep curls are also valuable, though involve slightly less muscle.

Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise

Cardiovascular (or aerobic) exercise helps build both muscular endurance, so you can spend more time doing things you enjoy (gardening, walking) before getting tired, and improves the strength and endurance of your cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

Cardiovascular exercise – what we’re doing when we walk, run, swim, dance, do the yardwork – helps our bodies in two ways. It builds muscular endurance in our large muscle groups that are used to create movement, and it builds strength and endurance in our cardiovascular and respiratory systems, meaning that it strengthens our heart (remember it’s a muscle!) and the muscles we use to breathe, as well as creating a stronger delivery system for oxygen and nutrients to our working muscles.

Plus, there is a significant and growing body of research showing that the repeated, rhythmic movements inherent to cardiovascular exercise are calming and relaxing. Not only does this relieve stress, but it can help alleviate anxiety and the symptoms of depression. Yay for improving physical and mental health at the same time.

Balance exercise

Good balance depends in part on muscular strength and the reflexes and reaction time of the nervous system. Since balance is a key component in preventing falls, it’s increasing important to work to maintain good balance as we age.

Though other types of exercise are helpful in maintaining good balance, specific exercises are as simple as putting yourself in a position where your balance is slightly or moderately challenged (but that is still safe), and letting your body figure out how to adjust for the slight instability. This can be as low-tech as standing on one foot with a hand on a wall for some stability help (to make it more challenging, try closing your eyes).   Another great option is tai chi, a form exercise that slow, continuous movement and emphasizes body alignment shifting your body weight in a controlled manner. Often spoken of as “meditation in movement”, tai chi is also a great break for your brain.

Flexibility exercise

Though not “exercise” in the traditional sense, flexibility exercises are nonetheless an important part of maintaining movement ability and quality of life. Losing flexibility means losing the ability to move to the same degree that you did when you were young.

Most people think of flexibility and static stretching (the traditional stretch-and-hold) as the same thing, and to some degree this is true. Static flexibility tells us the about the range of motion available at a given joint. However, in day to day life, we should take dynamic flexibility into greater consideration.

Dynamic flexibility considers both the range of motion available at the joint, and takes into account any resistance to the stretch that might be caused by muscle tension or any other resistance to the movement. In many ways, this is real-life flexibility. Consider trying to reach a jar down from a tall shelf. As you stretch to reach it, your body is contracting muscles to help stabilize you and to complete the movement. Your flexibility in this action will be much different than your flexibility if you were sitting somewhere relaxed and supported.

Despite these differences, any flexibility exercise is worth doing. All age groups appear to respond to flexibility training, and this is key to maintaining your ability to move well, helping to maintain quality of life and independent living. There are many types of stretching, and most seem to provide roughly the same level of benefit, though to maximize your results from flexibility exercises, you should be looking for the line between a comfortable stretch and slight discomfort. Finding stretches that take you to (but not over) this slight discomfort line while still keeping you in a safe and supported position will be your best bet.

So whats the bottom line?

As always, the most effective exercise is the exercise you’re willing to do! The benefits provided by each typoe of exercise have a lot of overlap, though you’ll certainly get a more even spread of these benefits by including some of each of the above. Remember to stay safe, listen to your body, and work to find exercises that are challenging but achievable, and you’ll go farther than you might expect!

 

References
Carter, N. D., P. Kannus, *K. M. Khan. “Exercise in the prevention of falls in older people: A systematic literature review examining the rationale and the evidence”. Sports Medicine. 31(6):427-438 (2001).
Claxton, D. B., M. S. Wiggins, F. M. Moode &R. Crist. “A Question of Balance”. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. 77(3):32-37 (2006).
Keller, K.& M. Engelhardt.  “Strength and muscle mass loss with aging process. Age and strength loss”. Muscles Ligaments Tendons Journal. 3(4):346–350 (2013). 
Plowman, S. A. & D. L. Smith. Exercise Physiology For Health, Fitness, And Performance. 4th ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2014.

 

 


How To Calculate Your Heart Rate

The human heart beats about 100,000 times a day. That’s about two billion heartbeats during a lifetime! How many of those should you spend on a workout?

Exercise is one of the best ways to increase your life expectancy, due in part to the effect of cardiovascular (or aerobic) exercise. You can increase this component of your fitness by doing steady aerobic work (walking, running, cycling, and swimming are just a few examples) at a given percentage of your maximum heart rate. But how the heck do you figure out what that is?

The most accurate way to determine your maximum heart rate is by undergoing an incremental exercise test to maximum exercise level. This is not fun, and requires precise monitoring with specific equipment. Your doctor is probably not going to prescribe this just because you ask for it (but they might!). More commonly, personal trainers, exercise physiologists, health coaches, and other exercise professionals use a formula that estimates your maximum heart rate, based on your age:

Calculating Maximum Heart Rate – Normal, Healthy People

When planning day-to-day exercise, there is a commonly used equation to estimate your maximum heart rate that is actually quite simple, and is empirically based (meaning based on solid research). It’s not as precise as the exercise testing, but it is much easier. All it takes is a little math.

Maximum Heart Rate (in beats per minute) = 220 – Age in years

For example, the maximum heart rate calculation for a 35 year old would look like this:

Maximum heart rate = 220 – 35

Maximum heart rate = 185 beats per minute

However, it is important to note that this equation can overestimate or underestimate your maximum heart rate by as much as 12 to 15 beats. In general, this variation is mostly due to age, but can also be influenced by factors such as fitness level and individual genetic makeups, which are impossible to account for in the estimation.

If you are over 40, the above equation may overestimate your maximum heart rate as 12-15 beats per minute higher than it actually should be. This means that the number the equation tells you could be 12-15 beats per minute higher than it should be, and you should use caution with exercise that takes your near your calculated heart rate max.

If you are under 40, the above equation may underestimate your maximum heart rate by 12-15 beats per minute. This means that exercise that takes you near the calculated maximum heart rate may not truly be your max – you may be exercising at a lower intensity than you mean to.

There are two other variations for calculating maximum heart rate for specific populations, which take into account more specific variables.

Calculating Maximum Heart Rate for Obese Individuals

This variation on the maximum heart rate equation takes into account the low fitness level that very often corresponds with obesity. It also takes into account the health challenges an individual may face, including heart disease, which may further increase risk of injury or cardiac event brought on by strenuous exercise.

Maximum Heart Rate, Obese Individuals (In beats per minute) = 200 x (0.5 x Age in years)

For example, the maximum heart rate calculation for a 50 year old obese individual would look like this:

Maximum heart rate = 200 – (0.5 x 50)

Maximum heart rate = 200 – 25

Maximum heart rate = 175 beats per minute

Calculating Maximum Heart Rate for Older Adults

Your heart has its own natural pacemaker, which creates the electrical impulse that causes each heartbeat. As you age, these impulses – and subsequently your heartbeat – gradually slow. (This is a normal process and nothing to worry about!)

This physical difference means that in order to be more accurate, if you are an older adult (above the age of 60), you should be using a slightly different formula to estimate your maximum heart rate. Older adults can make the same changes to cardiovascular fitness as any other age group, and the relative intensity that you can work to as an older adult is unchanged. A workout that brings you to about 70% of your maximum heart rate will feel the same whether you’re 37 or 73. It’s only your actual heart rate that will be different. So it’s worth planning well. Using the following modified formula will ensure that you A) stay within safe limits when exercising and B) continue to make progress and increase your fitness levels!

Maximum Heart Rate, Older Adults (In beats per minute) = 208 x (0.7 x Age in years)

For example, the maximum heart rate calculation for a 73 year old would look like this:

Maximum heart rate = 208 – (0.7 x 73)

Maximum heart rate = 200 – 51

Maximum heart rate = 149 beats per minute

With respect to all of these situations, it’s important to listen to your body when gauging your exercise intensity. If you feel like you’re working moderately, very hard, or somewhere in between, then it’s ok to use that to gauge your workout intensity as well. We call this a rating of perceived exertion, and it has a strong parallel to heart rate when it comes to gauging intensity. You can use both methods to gauge intensity, or you can aim for a target heart rate and work within 5-10 beats per minute of that number.

 

References
Miller, Wayne C., Janet P. Wallace, and Karen E. Eggert. “Predicting Max HR And The HR-&VO2 Relationship For Exercise Prescription In Obesity”. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 25.9 (1993): 1077-1081.
Plowman, Sharon A and Denise L Smith. Exercise Physiology For Health, Fitness, And Performance. 4th ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2014.
Tanaka, Hirofumi, Kevin D Monahan, and Douglas R Seals. “Age-Predicted Maximal Heart Rate Revisited”. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 37.1 (2001): 153-156.

Exercise For Older Adults, Part 1

Exercise and physical activity are both important factors in maintaining health, independence, and quality of life as you age. Let’s explore what exactly that means for you on a day to day basis:

We all want to maintain the best quality of life we can as we grow older. Your physical abilities have a lot to do with this: the better you can move, the better your quality of life will remain. With respect to your physical abilities, your body is really great at adapting to whatever demands are made of them, regardless of age. This is good news, because it means that no matter when you start an exercise program or increase your physical activity, you will benefit from it. The bad news is that if you never start an exercise program, or if you allow yourself to become less physically active, your body will actually lose it’s ability to perform certain tasks involving strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance. The longer you remain inactive, the more loss occurs. So let’s put a stop to that right now, and explore what it really means to be physically active and exercise as an older adult.

First things first: what’s the difference between physical activity and exercise? Both are important factors in maintaining health and independence, but actually doing each is slightly different, both in intention and effort.

Physical activity is movement that occurs as part of your daily life, for which some muscular effort is required and energy is expended. Physical activity levels correspond with health benefits, to some degree – there is a maximum health benefit that can be achieved, because as your fitness increases, your body will be able to handle more exertion more easily. The walk that you were taking when you started will become much less physically stressful – good job! When increasing your physical activity, it’s important to take into account the level that you are normally doing. This can include things that might not immediately come to mind, like vacuuming or gardening, as well as taking a walk. Always make sure you are in a safe environment too. Be on the lookout for trip and fall hazards, and give yourself plenty of breaks as you increase your day to day activities to make sure you don’t overload your body.

Exercise is also movement, but the key different between exercise and physical activity is the intention of the movement. Exercise consists of planned and repeated movements, often of a higher intensity and also produced by muscular effort and energy expenditure. By intentionally producing movement and effort, you will improve and/or maintain physical fitness and health benefits to a greater degree than you can achieve via physical activity alone. As we age, it’s important to consider how quickly your body will recover from higher intensity efforts. Unfortunately, you just won’t bounce back the way you did when you were 20! To help this along, make sure you start slowly and easily, and give yourself plenty of time between workouts. A hot bath or shower, ice or heat packs, and extra sleep will help if you are feeling particularly sore or tired after a workout. Good nutrition and drinking plenty of water are also key, of course!

So, if exercise can result in greater health benefits than physical activity, should you just focus on breaking a sweat and not worry too much about movement during non-gym hours? Surprisingly, no! Though research shows that exercise programs can incur greater health benefits, high levels of physical activity in day to day life are still very important. And sometimes you can even kill two birds with one stone: Incorporating small bursts of exercise into your daily activities – like doing a few pushups on your kitchen counter a few times daily – will lead to a more active lifestyle without you even realizing it.

Bottom line: get moving! It doesn’t have to be a big workout to make a difference. To feel better and be more healthy, it just has to be more than you’re doing right now. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll cover different types of exercise and how each can benefit you.


You’re Never Too Old…

The story: 104-year-old Ray Chavez, the oldest surviving veteran of the Pearl Harbor attack of World War II, is going to Hawaii for the 75th anniversary of the strike. He made the decision to go three years ago, and has been working with a trainer to help him physically prepare for the trip.

At 104 years old, Ray put on 20 pounds of muscle mass.

I love this story. The decision to make an effort, and then stick with it for years and attain such spectacular results is phenomenal. But the fact that he could actually make these gains isn’t!

What we think about the aging process – that our bodies will become unable to lift heavy things, or walk certain distances as our age advances – is not necessarily true. As with any age group, if you don’t continue to use the strength, flexibility, or cardiovascular endurance you have, you’ll lose these abilities to a degree. But…

you-can-do-it-poster

No matter how old you get, you can still gain at least some of the qualities back!

The body’s ability to build strength or endurance or flexibility doesn’t change as we age, though the process can differ slightly. Everyone has their own starting point, dependent on age and other characteristics (like being a couch potato or an avid outdoorsman). With advancing age, starting strength or endurance often decrease, so it’s important to recognize where you are, rather than where you think you should be or want to be. A good guideline:  whatever exercise or activity you choose should be moderately challenging, but achievable. And your starting point is just that – a starting point. Though the aging process usually means that it takes a bit longer for our bodies to respond to the exercise, they still will respond. In fact, if you stick with the “challenging but achievable” guideline, you’ll be able to continue to progress with weights or other resistance training for strength, or to stick with the treadmill or bike for a greater duration. All of it will eventually become easier. Once it does, you can find a new challenge. Heavier weight. Longer bike ride. Higher steps.

The long and short: Our bodies are designed to move, and that design doesn’t change with age. The body may not progress as fast as we’d like it to, but it will make progress!

You can read Ray’s story (and watch the inspiring video) here.