Exercise for the Elderly

The past year has seen mounting evidence of the strong cumulative benefits from physical activity at every age, not least for persons over 65. Yet as the time for New Year’s resolutions rolls around once again, we see the same bleak media predictions of how few people, among all those who resolve to begin a new exercise regimen, will actually keep it up for more than a month, if that.   

I have recently learned of a Swedish website for an excellent manual used by health professionals to advise about physical exercise for prevention and treatment of a variety of disease conditions, such as obesity, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, dementia, and asthma. It also has more general chapters, including ones concerning the effects of physical activity, the role of motivation, health considerations for strength training, children and young people, and the elderly.

I, for one, have learned a lot from looking at a number of the chapters, even though I have always taken an interest in exercise, beginning with vain attempts, at eleven, to emulate with friends the 1945 Swedish world record holder of our hero Gunder Hägg by running along the roads of a Stockholm suburb. I am convinced that perusing selected chapters in the manual could help individuals seeking the extra motivation to strengthen their resolve to exercise more, and more wisely.

The link to the website is: http://www.fyss.se/

By clicking on this link, one can download the English version, then in turn download any desired chapters. The introduction to the English version begins as follows: 

     “Physical activity in the prevention and treatment of disease summarizes the up-to-date scientific knowledge on how to prevent and treat various diseases and conditions using physical activity. The book covers most areas of disease where physical activity has a documented effect. By combining recommendations on suitable exercise activities with a description of the potential risks of physical activity for various patient groups, this handbook can comprehensively be used by anyone working with physical activity and health.”

I was interested to see that Scandinavian health professionals are increasingly giving patients written prescriptions for recommended types and levels of exercise. The idea seems to be that at least some patients might take the advice more seriously if it is written down in such a way. Similarly, we already know that individuals who actually write down their own exercise goals and plans are more likely to follow through than those who simply rely on their “mental notebooks.”

Here’s to more success this year with those New Year’s resolutions!

Sissela Bok, 79, is Senior Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. Her most recent book is Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science (Yale University Press, 2011).







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