Physical activity is not without risk, but for most people the benefits outweigh the risks. However, some people—such as people with congestive heart failure, older adults, and people with limited mobility — are at higher risk of complications relating to physical activity. Even with these special considerations, you may still be able to be physically active if you get clearance from your doctor and keep these guidelines in mind:
Physical Activity for People with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
- If you have congestive heart failure, you may be able to increase your physical activity if your doctor gives you the go-ahead. Research shows exercise improves the exercise capacity, overall function, and quality of life of people with CHF. Further, physical activity may help prevent the development of CHF if you don’t already have it.
- However, if your heart failure is related to valve disease, you may not be able to participate in some forms of exercise, particularly those that are vigorous. Discuss with your doctor what types of exercise, if any, are appropriate for you.
- Check with your doctor to find out if you qualify for a cardiac rehabilitation program, which includes a carefully monitored exercise program for your safety.
- Make sure each time you do physical activity, you include adequate warm-up and cool down periods. In people with heart failure, these periods may need to last longer than the usual 5 to 10 minutes; usually at least 10 to 15 minutes is recommended.
- An appropriate duration for each physical activity session is usually 20 to 30 minutes at any intensity that is tolerated.
- Most studies have used 3 to 5 sessions of physical activity per week. Consider a day of rest between sessions to prevent exhaustion
Physical Activity for Older Adults
As we get older, sometimes our bodies just don’t seem to handle exercise as well as they used to. But the fact is, inactivity over time is to blame for many problems we previously thought were part of a natural aging process. That is to say, exercise can help prevent some aspects of aging!
If you are physically active, you can help prevent problems like a lower maximum heart rate, reduced muscle mass, bone loss, stiffened tendons and ligaments, and some joint or nerve problems. That said, you can’t prevent every health problem, because genetics plays a big part in your health. But physical activity offers many benefits!
As you get older, the same recommendations for physical activity apply to you. But there are some additional guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American Heart Association for older adults who may have some health limitations:
- When you are unable to reach the recommended amount of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, you should do as much physical activity as you can.
- Adjust the intensity of your physical activity according to your fitness level. Pick activities that are fun and that you can do year round. Consider walking at the mall.
- If you are at risk of falling, do exercises that improve balance.
- If you have chronic health problems, be aware of how your conditions affect your ability to do regular physical activity safely.
- Wear comfortable clothing and footwear.
- Find a companion to exercise with you for safety and for a social outlet.
- Take more time to warm up before and after your activity. Stretch slowly after your activity.
- Start your activity at a low intensity and progress gradually.
- If you plan to be active more than 30 minutes, try to drink some water every 15 minutes, especially during hot conditions. As you age, your sense of thirst is decreased; by the time you notice you are thirsty you may already be partially dehydrated.
Physical Activity with Limited Mobility
Even if you have limited mobility, the benefits of exercise can still be yours. And exercise may be even more important than ever. For example, people with arthritis or other joint-related diseases can use regular exercise to increase mobility, range of motion and flexibility to reduce pain. Or people with diabetes who also have neuropathy can benefit from regular physical activity to normalize blood sugar levels and keep blood circulating to the limbs. Nearly everyone can benefit from some form of physical activity. The idea is to move in whatever way you can, while minimizing the risks of physical activity. Here are some general suggestions:
- Always first check with your doctor to learn how to be more physically active within your limitations. Find out which activities are safe for you. You may be referred to a physical therapist, who can teach you how to do specific exercises and stretches.
- Ask a spouse or friend to join you the next time you are physically active. It’s a good idea not to exercise alone for safety reasons. But having someone to talk to while you are active is also enjoyable and it can motivate you to keep up the good work.
- Be creative. Any activity that gets you moving for 10 minutes or more at a time and gets your heart rate up counts. Try stretching, lifting hand weights (or even household items like water bottles or cans of food), swimming, bicycling, rowing, yoga, walking or dancing, if you are able. Get a video that shows you how to do chair exercises if you are unable to stand or walk.
- Check with your health insurance provider and/or Medicare to see if you are eligible for specialized exercise equipment. They may cover the cost of devices that may help you become more active and fit again.