Exercise: Prescription for Older Adults

Regular exercise key to help older adults with heart disease maintain physical function.

Older adults often want to remain independent, even after a problem like a heart attack. A new statement from the American Heart Association identifies a key strategy – regular exercise.

Older couple walking in park, holding handsWomen over the age of 65 make up slightly more than half of all older Americans. In addition, women tend to live longer than men, which means their physical fitness and stamina can make the difference between living independently and needing a retirement home or nursing facility.

Since heart disease tends to increase in women after menopause, it’s important that they reduce symptoms and build stamina after the problem is diagnosed.

Geriatric cardiologist Daniel E. Forman chaired the panel that wrote the new AHA statement. Dr. Forman noted in a press release, “Many health-care providers are focused only on the medical management of diseases — such as heart failure, heart attacks, valvular heart disease and strokes — without directly focusing on helping patients maximize their physical function.”

Dr. Forman is a professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

To remain independent, patients need to improve their exercise capacity and gain strength. Even simple tasks like lifting grocery bags, climbing stairs or gardening require a certain level of physical fitness and muscular strength.

Cardiac rehabilitation is one way people with heart disease can rebuild or improve their fitness. Walking regularly is one of the best ways to help older women improve their cardiac fitness. For those with joint problems such as arthritis, swimming is another good choice.

Other good exercises include yoga, tai chi, as well as the use of machines or weights to build muscle strength. A well-rounded exercise program should include aerobic exercise, strength training, flexibility exercises and balance training.

“Emphasizing physical function as a fundamental part of therapy can improve older patients’ quality of life and their ability to carry out activities of daily living,” Dr. Forman commented in the press release.

The statement was published in the March issue of the journal Circulation.

HealthDay, “Exercise a Great Prescription to Help Older Hearts”
Circulation, “Prioritizing Functional Capacity as a Principal End Point for Therapies Oriented to Older Adults With Cardiovascular Disease: A Scientific Statement for Healthcare Professionals From the American Heart Association”
Written by: Beth Greenwood, RN | Medically reviewed by: Dr. Robert Carlson, M.D.