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Physically active seniors maintain physical dexterity

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Physical activity helps to better functional limitations

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The majority of adults aged 65 years and older remains inactive and do not meet the recommend physical activity guidelines. However, the studies that examine physical activity and seniors have not looked at seniors living in retirement communities that may have more access to recreational activities and exercise equipment.

With seniors in retirement communities in mind researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia, examined types of physical activity reported by retirement community residents and the effects of physical activity and depressive symptoms on functional limitations.

Dr. Lorraine Phillips, PhD, RN, associate professor at the University of Missouri, Sinclair School of Nursing, John A. Hartford Foundation Claire M. Fagin Fellow and lead author along with colleagues in a two year technology study had enrolled 38 seniors at TigerPlace, an independent active retirement community in Columbia, Missouri, average age of 85 years and 69% female. Resident’s completed regular evaluations concerning walking speed, balance and ability to stand up after sitting in a chair. Researchers had used the Short Physical Performance Battery to examine lower extremity functioning in older persons.

Researchers compared the results of the tests to the residents' self-reported participation in exercise. Seniors who reported greater physical activity had significantly fewer functional limitations at 12 months.

The researchers write “Although physical activity explained a small amount of variance in 12-month functional limitations, as a modifiable behavior, physical activity should be championed and supported to help ameliorate functional limitations in older adults.”

Dr. Phillips said the national recommendations for exercise include muscle strengthening exercises, such as knee extensions and bicep curls. Dr. Phillips also notes muscle strength is important to individuals of this age group in order for them to maintain their ability to conduct everyday activities such as opening jars, standing up from chairs and supporting their own body weight.

Most participants in this study did not report completing these types of activities despite daily opportunities for recreational activities and access to exercise equipment

According to Dr. Phillips "For older individuals, walking may represent the most familiar and comfortable type of physical activity.” "Muscle-strengthening exercises should be promoted more aggressively in retirement communities and made more appealing to residents."

To combat the lack of physical activity among seniors, Phillips says health care providers should discuss exercise programs with their patients and share the possible risks associated with their lack of exercise, such as losing their ability to live independently.

According to the CDC, persons who are age 65 and older, are generally fit and have no limiting health conditions should do muscle strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

This study is published in Clinical Nursing Research.

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