By the year 2030, the number of individuals 65 years and over will reach 70 million in the United States alone. Those 85 and older will then be the fastest-growing segment of our population. We must determine the extent and mechanisms by which exercise and physical activity can improve health, functional capacity, quality of life, and independence in this population.
Current evidence clearly indicates that participation in a regular exercise program is an effective way to reduce and/or prevent a number of the functional declines associated with aging. Older adults have the ability to adapt and respond to both endurance and strength training.
Aerobic/endurance training can help to maintain and improve various aspects of heart and lung function and cardiac output, and such exercise can enhance endurance. Strength/resistance training will help offset the loss in muscle mass and strength typically associated with aging, thereby improving functional capacity. Also important, reduction in risk factors associated with disease (heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and so on) will improve health status and contribute to an increase in lifespan. Together, these training adaptations will greatly improve the functional capacity of older men and women, therefore improving their quality of life and extend independent living.
Additional benefits include improved bone health and thus reductions in risk for osteoporosis; improved postural stability, reducing the risk of falling; and increased flexibility and range of motion. Together, these benefits associated with regular exercise and physical activity will contribute to a healthier, more independent lifestyle, greatly improving functional capacity and quality of life for the fastest-growing segment of our population.