How Much Activity Do Older Adults Need?

This article is a transcribed edited summary of a video Bob and Brad recorded in of . For the original video go to

Bob: Today we’re going to talk about how much activity do older adults need? So, the subject is physical activity, Brad and I want to make sure right now, we emphasize how important physical activity is for health. Even modest amounts can affect your health. You don’t have to run a marathon.

Brad: Right. Exactly.

Bob: We just want you to get off the couch.

Brad: Right, and we’re physical therapists. We work with all ages of people. We’re literally experts at this.

Bob: That’s right. I think we can talk to it. Let’s name some benefits, Brad, of physical activity.

Brad: Well, one thing, it helps keep you thinking and learning skills sharp. If the body is not active, it affects the mind and how the mind works.

Bob: It’s funny how that works. Okay. It’s going to improve your sleep quality. You work hard, you’re going to be ready for bed.

Brad: Right and when you sleep better, everything’s better. Your body needs that time to relax and rejuvenate. Also, it strengthens your bones and muscles. I think that’s one thing that people may not be aware of, we know it strengthens your muscles, but your bones are directly influenced.

Bob: Osteopenia, osteoporosis. I mean, the bones react to stress on them. They become thicker. It can reduce the risk of depression and anxiety. Mental health is so important nowadays and this helps keep you on track. It’s probably one of the best drugs you can do. Mental health is the natural drug of physical exertion.

Brad: I can speak to that personally.

Bob: So can I.

Brad: My wife, if I’m getting a little ornery, she says, you need your exercise. And I'm happy to do it. It decreases the risks of cardiovascular disease and type two diabetes. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the United States.

Bob: Yup, I saw that. They just mentioned that.

Brad: 500,000 people roughly. I don’t have the exact number in my head.

Bob: It also, can reduce the risk of certain cancers, just by being active. So, there are some guidelines. We have different organizations that provides the guidelines. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, you should do at least 150 minutes. That’s two and a half hours a week. That’s a fair amount. I saw a lot of that ended up being about 60 minutes a day.

Brad: If you’re starting out, you’re not going to jump in to 150 minutes in a week. You take weeks to build up. You find things you enjoy doing and make it into an enjoyable part of your life.

Bob: Exactly, we’re talking about a lifestyle approach here. So, don’t jump right into this. The other ones, I want to mention, the Institute of Medicine, U.S. Dietary Guidelines, and the American Cancer Society all recommend around 45-60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity.

Brad: Sure. Again, don’t get scared off by this. Everyone has their own levels of moderate and vigorous.

Bob: Well, I just want to say if you get off the couch and do something, I’m really happy with you. Let’s give some examples of moderate activities.

Brad: Walking briskly.

Bob: Sure.

Brad: So, if you’re walking with someone, you’re talking to them, you should be able to keep a conversation going, but you notice that you’re working.

Bob: You’re working a bit hard. Cleaning heavy, boy.

Brad: Heavy cleaning.

Bob: I bet you do that a lot, don’t you?

Brad: Well, I clean the bathroom once a year, whether it needs it or not.

Bob: There we go.

Brad: Just kidding.

Bob: Next one, Brad.

Brad: Washing the windows.

Bob: Ah, Mike our camera guy used to do that professionally.

Brad: So, obviously you must be careful reaching up high if you have shoulder problems or balance issues. So, it’s just an example.

Bob: Vacuuming, we find this with a lot of people with back pain, it’s difficult on their backs. It can be moderate intensity.

Brad: It depends if you have one of those vacuum cleaners that have the power motors in it or not. Mopping the floor, obviously, if your back is healthy.

Bob: Same with sweeping the floor. It’s like the next one, Brad.

Brad: Slow dancing, ballroom, and line dancing.

Bob: That’s what you can do with your broom and your vacuum. You can slow dance with them.

Brad: Mowing the lawn. Be careful, I have a friend he’s in his seventies and he’s mowing the lawn yet.

Bob: We’re not talking about a seated lawn mower, we’re talking about a push mower.

Brad: A push mower and it may be one that has the power transmission, which is kind of nice. Especially if you have some hills. So, good judgement on all these.

Bob: Bicycling. Especially a light effort. I’m not talking about really gearing down like you do.

Brad: Yeah, if you have a hill to climb, that’s a major issue versus bicycling on the flat or gentle rolling hills.

Bob: Okay, how about badminton?

Brad: Badminton, yeah. It’s another one of those activities where you forget about getting tired so much because you get involved with the activity.

Bob: We were just talking about this one, Brad, pickleball. It’s gone crazy over the nation.

Brad: Does the ball have a pickle?

Bob: I don’t know why the pickle comes in there.

Brad: We’re not pickleball players, yet. Tennis, but doubles.

Bob: Doubles, right.

Brad: So, you’re not going back and forth so far. Again, all these with good judgement and moderation involved.

Bob: Using an elliptical trainer. It’s nice because they’re easy on the legs, easy on the knees.

Brad: You don’t have that impact, it’s a smooth motion.

Bob: Right, it’s smooth.

Brad: You have something to hold onto with your hands and it helps your balance. If you get on and off it safely, of course.

Bob: Any others, Brad?

Brad: Gardening.

Bob: Yeah. That was my dad’s thing, boy. He always said too, that keeps him in shape, his gardens.

Brad: There’s something, I think, I have a friend who’s a farmer. He talks about getting out into the soil and the fresh air.

Bob: The nature. Double benefit.

Brad: Yup and watching things grow and have that feeling of feeling good about what you’re doing. Then water aerobics. I go swimming two to three times a week and there’s always a water aerobics class that comes in. They kind of kick me out, but it’s wonderful. There’s usually about 20-30 people. It is the retired crowd and they’re just having a ball.

Bob: Yeah. It’s a great community type activity.

Brad: I mean, they’re not playing water polo with a ball, but their enjoying it very much.

Bob: Again, we want you to work up to that 60 minute maybe, every day, but that would take a long time. There are multiple studies that show the benefits of walking anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 steps a day.

Brad: That sounds like a lot.

Bob: A lot of people have that watch. You know, the Fitbit.

Brad: Yeah, don’t count it, literally. I mean, you could.

Bob: My wife is addicted to hers. Oh gosh.

Brad: I would get addicted to one if I had one.

Bob: At night, she will often, “Oh my god, I’m 800 steps light.” And she starts walking around the kitchen. I’m not kidding. She’s addicted to hers. She does 10,000 steps by 10 in the morning.

Brad: Oh really? And then she can rest?

Bob: No, then she does 20,000 steps by night. So, if you can do 2,000 steps a day, we’re happy with you. That’s going to be highly beneficial.

Brad: I just want to clarify, if you want 60 minutes, I think it’s fine to do 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes in the afternoon, and 20 minutes at night. Break it up.

Bob: Exercise bits.

Brad: Enjoy the day and be careful!

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