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JAMA Patient Page
September 3, 2008

Fitness for Older Adults

JAMA. 2008;300(9):1104. doi:10.1001/jama.300.9

Keeping active and remaining fit can help prolong your life and can even help prevent or delay illnesses or disabilities as you grow older. The benefits of physical activity extend throughout life and can improve many health conditions. Being active helps lower your risk of falls and developing heart disease and diabetes and can help you live on your own longer. Fitness and physical activity are safe for most older adults—even for those with stable chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. Your doctor can advise you about the safety of certain activities and increasing your fitness level. The September 3, 2008, issue of JAMA includes an article reporting that regular physical activity can improve mental function in older adults with memory complaints. This Patient Page is based on one published in the July 12, 2006, issue of JAMA.

How to keep fit

  • Choose activities you enjoy.

  • Make being fit part of your everyday life. Playing with children, gardening, walking, dancing, and housecleaning are just a few activities that can improve your fitness.

  • Combine a range of activities that include aerobic activity (see below), strengthening, flexibility, and balance.

  • Start slowly and gradually build up to a total of at least 30 minutes of activity a day on most days of the week. Activities can be broken up throughout the day.

  • Keep safety in mind. Always wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes and use appropriate safety gear. Avoid outdoor activities in extreme cold or heat. Drink plenty of fluids while engaging in physical activity.

Types of activities

  • Aerobic activities (exercises that increase oxygen use to improve heart and lung function) such as walking, gardening, and swimming can help strengthen your heart and lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. They can also improve your mood and sleep.

  • Strengthening activities, such as repetitive lifting of light weights or even household items such as canned foods, can improve your muscle and bone health. Strengthening leg and hip muscles with leg weight exercises can help reduce your risk of falls.

  • Flexibility and balancing exercises, such as tai chi, stretching, and yoga, can help prevent injuries and stiff joints.

Be aware of danger signs

Stop the activity and contact your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Pain or pressure in your chest, arms, neck, or jaw

  • Feeling lightheaded, nauseated, or weak

  • Becoming short of breath

  • Developing pain in your legs, calves, or back

  • Having an uncomfortable sensation of your heart beating too fast

For more information

Inform yourself

To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. A Patient Page on fitness was published in the December 21, 2005, issue; and one on the benefits of regular physical activity was published in the June 14, 2000, issue.

Sources: National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health Medline Plus, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institute on Aging

The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.