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Fri, Feb. 21

Good news about physical activity for older adults

Two recent studies - one revealing the number of Americans at risk for cardiovascular disease and the other showing the health benefits of walking - highlight the importance of physical fitness, particularly among older adults.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that nearly half of all adult Americans have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, all conditions that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Another recent study, published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, showed that women who reported walking at least two hours a week at any pace had a 30 percent lower risk for stroke than those who did not report walking. Women who said they walked briskly lowered their risk for stroke by 37 percent.

These studies are the most recent to affirm what health care professionals have known for years: that regular physical activity has beneficial effects on most, if not all, organ systems, and consequently helps prevents a broad range of health problems and diseases. Physical activity for older adults has been shown to lower their risk for:

• Falling and fracturing bones

• Chronic illnesses such as heart disease

• High blood pressure (and lowering blood pressure in some people with hypertension)

• Colon cancer, diabetes, as well as obesity

• Breast cancer.

Additionally, regular physical activity helps strengthen muscles, bones and joints. It may also help and control arthritis pain and reduce joint swelling. It can even help alleviate depression.

For older adults intimidated by the prospect of beginning an exercise program, research also shows that physical activity does not need to be strenuous to bring some health benefits. A moderate amount of physical activity, performed regularly, can help improve health.

Moderate activity, such as 30 minutes of brisk walking five or more days of the week, can improve health. Additional health benefits may be gained by longer periods of physical activity or more vigorous activity. Brief episodes of physical activity, such as 10 minutes at a time, can be beneficial if repeated. Older persons also benefit from activities aimed at building or maintaining muscle strength and balance.

When beginning any new physical activity, it's important to start slow, with something that is enjoyable. Begin with five to 10-minute intervals and gradually increase the duration and intensity of the activity to the desired amount. And remember that everyday physical activities performed daily may accomplish some of the same goals as exercise. Golfing, gardening and dancing are popular alternatives. Consult with your physician before beginning a new exercise or physical activity program.

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