Is it Safe for My Aging Parents to Exercise?

As your parents get older, you may wonder whether or not they should start or continue an exercise routine. If your aging loved one does not have any chronic health conditions that prevent them from exercising, it’s important to encourage them to be active and exercise in a safe and healthy way. Exercising can help your parents maintain strength and mobility, reduce the risk of injury from falls, and increase coordination.

What to Do Before Your Parents Exercise

Before beginning any exercise program, make sure your parent consults with their primary care physician to determine if they are healthy enough to begin an exercise program. Secondly, make sure they know their maximum heart rate. In order to determine a safe intensity level for which to exercise, subtract your parent’s age from the number 220. For example, a heart rate max for a 60 year old would be 220-60=160 beats per minute. Whatever the number is, you and your parents are going to want to make sure that they do not reach or exceed this number during exercise. A safe exercise range is 50% to 70% of your maximum heart rate.

What Exercises Are Safe for My Parents?

In general, adults need to get 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of aerobic activity every week and muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days a week.

Aerobic activities can include gardening, water aerobics at your local fitness center, or brisk walking while maintaining a conversation pace (meaning you can carry on a conversation with a walking partner). No matter the exercise, is important to start slowly; with the duration of aerobic activity and intensity gradually increasing. For example, beginners should start with 10 minutes of light walking, adding 2 minutes each session. A good goal is to begin with 3-4 days a week.

Strengthening exercises, on the other hand, are exercises that increase one’s power, strength, and muscle endurance. Strength exercises can also benefit your parents by increasing their muscle mass, which is very important for all adults. As they get older, this increase in muscle mass can help reduce the impact of weight loss and helps make the body more resilient. Strong muscles don’t strain as easily, which can help reduce the risk of injury. Exercises should include the major muscle groups (arms, shoulders, chest, back, hips, legs).

Your parent’s doctor should be able to provide you with guidance on which exercises are safe for your parents if they have any chronic health conditions. Remember, while exercise is key, it’s important for them to do only activities that are right for their abilities.

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Marisa Gorbsky is a certified athletic trainer with a master’s degree in exercise science and has worked in sports medicine for more than 12 years. She has experience with college athletics, high school athletics, and senior rehabilitation in a clinical environment.