A Banner Publication
December 4, 2008 – Vol. 2 • No. 16
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Questions & Answers

1. Should elderly people refrain from exercise because of their age?

Exercise is not only safe for most elderly adults, but is encouraged. Staying active at all ages is important for personal health and well-being. Studies show that regular exercise among older adults provides numerous health benefits such as improvements in blood pressure, diabetes, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and muscle and bone growth. Additionally, exercise among elderly adults is associated with less depression, and decreased mortality and age-related illness. It is never too late to begin an exercise plan, but it is important to start slowly with activities you are comfortable with, like walking.

2. Why does aerobic exercise help to lose weight?

Aerobic exercise causes your heart to work harder to pump oxygen throughout your body and your lungs to work hard to take in the needed oxygen. Weight loss is achieved by using more calories than you consume. When you engage in aerobic exercise, your body uses energy in the form of calories to do work, thereby burning more calories. Therefore, a healthy diet combined with aerobic exercise will help you achieve weight loss.

3. Is exercise harmful to people with disabilities?

Exercise is an essential component of health maintenance for everyone, regardless of age or disability. Regular exercise has been shown to strengthen your heart and lungs, improve mobility and flexibility, reduce stress, improve overall emotional health and reduce the risk of future injury. If you have a disability, a regular exercise routine can help you strengthen important muscles and alleviate stress. Begin by speaking with a health care professional to help you design an exercise plan that is best for you.

4. Is there a particular aerobic exercise a person must do to produce health benefits?

There is no one exercise you must do to be healthy. Regardless of the exercise you choose, it is important that your heart beats harder and that you breathe noticeably faster than when at rest. At the end of the day, the key is to just do something! Even if you start by doing 10 to 20 minutes a day, that is better than nothing, and will be beneficial. Some exercise is better than none.

5. Why does running or brisk walking strengthen bones?

Our bones, similar to muscles, are living tissues that can grow and become stronger over our lifetime. We can strengthen our bones by engaging in activities that put stress on bone. These are exercises in which we work against gravity and our bones have to handle impact from our body weight. When we engage in impact activities like running and weight lifting, our bodies increase the rate of calcium carried into our bones, which helps make our bones stronger and denser.

6. Why does aerobic exercise reduce the risk of high blood pressure?

When you engage in aerobic activities, your heart works harder than usual to pump blood and oxygen throughout your body. Over time, your heart becomes stronger and can pump more blood more efficiently and with less effort, improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure. Evidence shows that regular aerobic activity can decrease your systolic blood pressure (the top number) by five to 10 millimeters of mercury (points) — equivalent to some blood pressure medications.

7. Is it harmful to do more than the recommended weekly exercise of 150 minutes?

No. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults can increase their activity to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity to achieve even greater health benefits. Studies show that increasing your exercise time can further reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension.

8. Is muscle-strengthening exercise important for people of all ages?

It is important that all adults participate in muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice a week and children at least three times a week. It is important to work all the major muscle groups, including the arms, legs and chest. Increasing your muscle strength confers numerous health benefits for people of all ages including helping your body burn more daily calories, improving balance and coordination, helping prevent injury and strengthening bones (fighting off osteoporosis). Talk to your doctor about which strengthening exercises are safe and best for you.

Marina C. Cervantes of the Disparities Solutions Center participated in the preparation of these responses.

Joseph R. Betancourt
Joseph R. Betancourt, M.D.
Director of the Disparities Solutions Center, Massachusetts General Hospital

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