Exercise and Aging: Finding the right program for you

Staying fit and active as you age can be a major challenge for some individuals. Whether it is due to an injury or medical condition or simply the normal changes that occur with aging, at some point our bodies just don’t quite function how they used to. Generally speaking, older adults often experience a slowing of movement, which can in turn lead to decreased activity followed by decline in function and ultimately, a loss of independence.

On Thursday, June 8, 2017, the University of Pennsylvania’s Division of Human Resources – Quality of Work Life and AREUFIT Health Services, Inc. hosted a workshop on “Exercise and Aging” open to all Penn faculty and staff to discuss safe and effective ways that older adults can work to maintain their function.

“As we age, our muscles tend to work on the “use it or lose it” principle,” said Micah Josephson, MS, representative of AREUFIT and leader of the workshop. There are two main neuromuscular changes that are often associated with aging – dynapenia, the loss of strength and power and sarcopenia, the loss of muscle tissue. However, research shows that exercise and physical activity can help slow or reduce the risk of these changes.

The question is, what type of exercise is the right one for you? Because all of our bodies are different, it is extremely important to understand what exercises and activities will best suit your needs or restrictions and help you achieve your goal.

Josephson presented some “official recommendations” for the following types of exercise: aerobic exercise (often referred to as “cardio”), strength training, balance training, and power training. When it comes to aerobic exercises like spinning, running, swimming, and a variety of group fitness classes such as Zumba, it is best to stick to 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity per week.

Strength training, which focuses on major muscle groups such as the torso and legs, is Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 11.47.06 AMrecommended 2+ days a week. The most important factor is to focus on the number of repetitions (reps) you can reach in a certain number of sets. For example, if you are strength training and doing bicep curls (pictured here), you should try to reach 8-12 repetitions doing about 3-4 sets of this movement. The amount of weight that you should use varies person to person, but it should be enough that you are maxing out around 8-12 reps while still maintaining form and control of the movement.

According to Josephson, balance training is suggested 2-3 days per week/60 minutes per week. The National Institute on Aging (NIH) Senior Health website offers some great tips and examples of safe ways to practice balance training.

Finally, for power training, Josephson says it is best to practice high-speed, low-resistance movements, recommending 2 sets of 12-15 reps twice per week. Using bicep curls as an example again, when power training instead of focusing on reaching a specific number of reps, you would focus on the velocity, or speed, of your movements. You want to perform the movement as quickly as you can while still maintaining control of the weight and yourself.

Regardless of your age or abilities, the first step in determining the best exercise program for you is to set your goal. When setting your goal, you have to think as specifically as possible. For example, the goal of “being able to keep up with the grandkids” does not look the same for every individual. For some, this may be getting up and down on the ground to play a game, while for others it may be running around the yard or going on hikes. These goals focus on very different muscle movements and your exercise program should be tailored accordingly.

If you are serious about exercising and maintaining a safe, active lifestyle as you age, Josephson has three overarching recommendations:

  1. Make the choice to exercise regularly
  2. Find a professional trainer who can help guide you
  3. If you cannot meet regularly with the trainer, meet periodically for check-ins and re-assessments

However, if you do not have access to a personal trainer, there are many other resources that can help you on this journey. The National Institute on Aging (NIA)’s Go4Life campaign is designed to help older adults fit exercise and physical activity into their daily lives. They focus on nutrition, exercise, and safety and offer a variety of tips and examples of exercises for maintaining endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.

The NIA’s main website is also a great source of information, not only for tips on exercising, but also for facts on the many benefits and ways that it can improve your quality of life.


Penn Medicine’s Third Annual 5K FOR THE IOA & The Memory Mile Walk

For the third year in a row, Penn Medicine’s 5K for the IOA and The Memory Mile Walk on Sunday, September 21st, went off without a hitch! In the final stretch of summer, humidity clung to the air as nearly 300 runners and walkers prepared for their trek across Penn Park.

WebAccompanied by the beautiful skyline views of Center City and the encouraging cheers of volunteers stationed along the route, runners ranging in age from 7-74 made their way up several hills, over bridges and around the various athletic fields throughout the park. The first runner to cross the finish line did so in an impressive 16 minutes and 42 seconds. With such a broad age range of participants, awards were given to the top three male and female finishers in each age group. The full list of race results, courtesy of Run The Day, is available here.




First time runner, Nicolette Patete, Digital Media Specialist for the IOA who helped promote the event, shared her experience of the 5K with us below.

_DB14610-3552630527-O copy “It was definitely more challenging than I had expected – especially the hills – but I finished in less time than I thought I would. I wish I had spent as much time preparing for my run as I did promoting it! I didn’t run the entire 3.1 miles, I took a few breaks to walk for a minute or so, but each time I did there was a volunteer on the sidelines encouraging me to keep moving. Seeing familiar faces of some of my Penn peers that I work with, along the route and in the race, was definitely motivating. There were also two young girls – probably around 7-8 years old – who passed me a few times, so I used them for some inspiration. It was really awesome to see them so determined. Overall, as hard as it was, I did have a good time. A 5k is a piece of cake for some, but since it was my first race ever, I felt really accomplished. I was really proud to support such a good cause and it was so nice to see so many other people come together for the same reason. I definitely plan on doing it again next year and trying to beat my time… but I might have to start training now!”

Proceeds from the event support Alzheimer’s and aging-related research and care at the Institute on Aging. Some registrants came out to honor loved ones suffering from aging-related diseases while others simply came to support a great cause.



Thank you again to all of our runners, volunteers, supporters, and sponsors for making our third time around another great success!

View more photos from the 5K for the IOA & The Memory Mile walk here!

Photo credit: Daniel Burke Photography

Walking a Quarter of a Mile to Stave off Disability

People unable to walk a quarter of a mile, the equivalent to one time around a track or 3-4 city blocks, are twice as likely to be hospitalized, warned Jack Guralnik, MD, PhD, MPH, at the latest Penn Institute on Aging Visiting Scholars lecture.

In this video, Dr. Guralnik, a professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, explains what researchers are finding, in terms of mobility prevalence and the dangers of disability. He also discusses a program that has been developed and is being studied which may be able to reverse mobility decline to prevent disability.

If you missed the live twitter coverage during the conference, we’ve included a transcript below, chocked full of interesting statistics and observations from Dr. Guralnik’s lecture.

[View the story “Jack Guralnik Visits Penn Institute on Aging” on Storify]

Getting Seniors Moving

What if you only burned 54 calories or spent less than a minute moderately exercising a day? That’s the average movement seniors in assisted living facilities may be getting, warned our latest Penn Institute on Aging’s Visiting Scholar speaker. Older adults in all sorts of settings – in nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and even at home – are moving less.

Last week, we were excited to have Barbara Resnick, PhD, RN, CRNP, Sonya Ziporkin Gershowitz Chair in Gerontology and Professor of Nursing at the University of Maryland, come share her expertise with us, on optimizing function among older adults, in essence, getting older adults moving. Dr. Resnick is the first nurse to become President of the American Geriatrics Society. She explained that, without movement built into daily activities, older adults may lose function, slow down even further, and be at increased risk for infections such as pneumonia.

Here’s a quick video recap from Dr. Resnick’s talk:

The ability to move – to get dressed, to walk to the bathroom, to feed yourself – is precious and can be taken for granted. As people get older and frailer, their motivation to preserve and maintain their movement ability seems to dip. Sometimes, caretakers can help “too much,” from lacing up shoes or bringing in a bed pan, limiting the amount of movement patients have.

As Dr. Resnick asked, “How do you know if someone’s capable if you don’t ask them to get dressed, feed themselves, go to bathroom?” In hospital settings, she cited a sobering statistic: in one study, hospitalized elders spent 83 percent of their time in bed. Often, the only time they were out of bed was to go to physical therapy.

To counter the inactivity, she suggested infusing movement into daily activities. Even 10 minutes of activity is important. While it may take longer for a loved one to get dressed without help, it’s a valuable exercise for them to do.

If you care for someone who could use some extra activity in their lives, Dr. Resnick offered a few tips to help optimize function for older adults:

Set up an environment that is safe, clear of any clutter, and comfortable to move in. Acknowledge, anticipate, and prevent any barriers to movement: fear of falls, pain, fatigue that comes with activity, she says. Individualized care makes a difference. So, if the height of a bed or chair is making it difficult to rise from, adjust accordingly.

Educate the patient’s care team, to help them understand that the older adult will be taking a more active role in their own care. Moving more means less risk of pneumonia, infections, and building strength to complete daily tasks.

Assess the individual’s capability – physical and cognitive – then set goals. What do they want to be able to do, both short term, and long term. Do they want to attend an important event (wedding, graduation, etc.)? Or maintain independence when bathing?

Motivate the older individual and their caregivers. Try reigniting old interests, such as swimming, and add new and different activities, like tai chi. This helps strengthen motivation and resilience. To motivate those with cognitive impairment, modify how you communicate the activity. You may need to use one step commands, repetition, or demonstrations to convey the message. People with dementia may not remember activity, but will remember it felt good and it was enjoyable, said Dr. Resnick.

Just remember – any activity is better than nothing!