Is it Safe for Me to Exercise?
"Too old" and "too frail" are not, in and of
themselves, reasons to prohibit physical activity. In fact,
there arenít very many health reasons to keep older adults
from becoming more active.
Most older people think they need their
doctorís approval to start exercising. Thatís a good idea
for some people. Your doctor can talk to you not only about
whether itís all right for you to exercise but also about
what can be gained from exercise.
Chronic Diseases: Not Necessarily a Barrier to Exercise
for the Elderly
Chronic diseases canít
be cured, but usually they can be controlled with
medications and other treatments throughout a personís life.
They are common among older adults, and include diabetes,
cardiovascular disease (such as high blood pressure), and
arthritis, among many others. Traditionally, exercise has
been discouraged in people with certain chronic conditions.
But researchers have found that exercise can actually
improve some chronic conditions in most older people,
as long as itís done when the
condition is under control.
Congestive heart failure (CHF) is an example
of a serious chronic condition common in older adults. In
people with CHF, the heart canít empty its load of blood
with each beat, resulting in a backup of fluid throughout
the body, including the lungs. Disturbances in heart rhythm
also are common in CHF.
Older adults are hospitalized more often for
this disease than for any other. No one is sure why, but
muscles tend to waste away badly in people with CHF, leaving
them weak, sometimes to the point that they canít perform
everyday tasks. No medicine has a direct
muscle-strengthening effect in people with CHF, but
muscle-building exercises (lifting weights, for example) can
help them improve muscle strength.
Having a chronic disease like CHF probably
doesnít mean you canít exercise. But it does mean that
keeping in touch with your doctor is important if you do
exercise. For example, some studies suggest that endurance
exercises, like brisk walking, may improve how well the
heart and lungs work in people with CHF,
but only in people who are in a
stable phase of the disease.
People with CHF, like those with most
chronic diseases, have periods when their disease gets
better, then worse, then better again, off and on. The same
endurance exercises that might help people in a stable phase
of CHF could be very harmful to people who are in an
unstable phase; that is, when they have fluid in their lungs
or an irregular heart rhythm.
If you have a chronic condition, you need to
know how you can tell whether your disease is stable; that
is, when exercise would be OK for you and when it wouldnít.
Chances are good that, if you have a chronic disease, you see a doctor regularly
(if you donít, you should, for many reasons). Talk with your doctor about
symptoms that mean trouble ó a flare-up, or what doctors call an acute phase or
exacerbation of your disease. If you have CHF, you know by now that the acute
phase of this disease should be taken very, very seriously. You should
when warning symptoms of the acute phase of CHF, or any other chronic disease,
appear. It could be dangerous.
But you and your doctor also should
discuss how you feel when you are free of those symptoms ó
in other words, stable; under control. This is the time to
Diabetes is another chronic condition
common among older people. Too much sugar in the blood is a
hallmark of diabetes. It can cause damage throughout the
body. Exercise can help your body "use up" some of the
The most common form of diabetes is
linked to physical inactivity.
In other words, you are less likely to get it in the first
place, if you stay physically active.
If you do have diabetes and it has
caused changes in your body ó cardiovascular disease, eye
disease, or changes in your nervous system, for example ó
check with your doctor to find out what exercises will help
you and whether you should avoid certain activities. If you
take insulin or a pill that helps lower your blood sugar,
your doctor might need to adjust your dose so that your
blood sugar doesnít get too low.
Your doctor might find that you donít
have to modify your exercises at all, if you are in the
earlier stages of diabetes or if your condition is stable.
If you are a man over 40 or a woman
over 50, check with your doctor first if you plan to start
doing vigorous, as
opposed to moderate, physical activities. Vigorous activity
could be a problem for people who have "hidden" heart
disease ó that is, people who have heart disease but donít
know it because they donít have any symptoms.
How can you tell if the activity you
plan to do is vigorous? There are a couple of ways. If the
activity makes you breathe hard and sweat hard (if you tend
to sweat, that is), you can consider it vigorous.
Part 1: I'm elderly, what can exercise do for me?
Part 2: Exercises for the elderly
Part 3: Is it safe for me to exercise?
Part 4: Is it safe for me to exercise? ...continued