Doctors tirelessly recommend it, and it is a simple and free activity that almost everyone can do. In addition, the proliferation of health apps has mythologized the 10,000 daily steps as an acceptable and beneficial challenge for health. However, professionals who are beginning to realize that the brisk walking is not enough and that there are other easy and more complete exercises to age in a healthy way.
This explains it David Rodriguez, Acting Vice Dean of Academic Planning and Infrastructures of the Faculty of Physical Activity Sciences of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. “About 10 or 15 years ago we began to see that, although it is true that aerobic work [de resistencia, como el caminar] is critical to the cardiovascular system, cardiac output can be maintained through force output, which is based on muscle contraction, and has been shown to be more efficient.”
“The older person needs a work where you combine strength activities with coordination, muscle contraction and decontraction“, combining them with the maintenance of balance, “lose it and regain it”.
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It is what is known as a multicomponent exercise, which encompasses different capacities. The expert, who is also coordinator of the Physical Exercise for the Elderly group of the Spanish Society of Geriatrics and Gerontology, gives the example of dancing: “It is fundamental, it unites rhythm, coordination capacity and, in addition, it favors mentally and prevents loneliness. But if we want to improve our capacity, not maintain it, the ideal is to do a more scheduled exercise”.
Recommended exercises for seniors
On this basis of muscle contraction and decontraction, testing coordination and losing and regaining balance, Rodríguez gives several examples of recommended activities that exceed the benefits of walking.
“The simplest test is get up from the chair without leaning on the arms. Two, three, four times. From there we can do coordination and balance by putting objects on the ground and, supported on one leg, touch them”.
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Throw a ball against the wall and catch it is another simple activity that requires coordination and reaction time. “We are working on the union of the central nervous system with the peripheral”, he explains.
Rodríguez emphasizes how, in recent years, doctors have become more aware of the importance of physical exercise beyond walking, something that is still recommended since it improves respiratory and cardiac capacity and, furthermore, there is no risk of joint damage.
‘Nordic walking’ and walking accompanied
In addition, when it is done in company it is much better: having a conversation while walking stimulates our cognitive system. On the other hand, it encourages looking for motivating challenges go out into nature: “It is fundamental, the environment is changing and you have to be careful where you step, it favors escaping from day to day…”
In this regard, the fashion of ‘Nordic walking’ or walking with poles implies an additional benefit by working the arms and the coordination of upper and lower limbs, something in which the family doctor agrees Francis Martinez, from the Locomotor System group of the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (Semergen). “Even though it’s predominantly aerobic, you’re also mobilizing muscle mass, there’s always a combination,” he explains.
The doctor draws attention to how underdiagnosed and undertreated is sarcopenia, a very common disease in older people, which consists of a progressive and generalized loss of muscle strength, “with the risk of physical disability.”
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Although exercise prescription is individualized, it usually starts at a minimal level and increases over time. “Strengthen major muscle groups at least twice a week, without exercising the same muscle group two days in a row.”
Specific exercises for diseases
A recent study has drawn attention to how sports practiced by older people reduce the risk of mortality, with differences depending on the type of sport. Thus, racket running decreased cardiovascular deaths by 27%, while running was associated with a greater reduction (19%) in cancer deaths.
Despite this, the experts consulted by EL ESPAÑOL do not believe that these activities are easily compartmentalized. “Specifically for cancer or neurological deterioration, there are no exercises,” comments Martínez, “but it is clear that the practice of physical exercise is associated with a healthy lifestylewith a good diet and a reduction in the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, and that leads to a reduction in diseases”.
The most important lesson about physical activity that doctors have observed in recent years, however, is that “active life comes first, and the more the better,” he sums up Miguel Angel Acostamember of the Elderly Care group of the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine (Semfyc).
“We always have to avoid ‘just walking a little,'” he says. Active life “includes climbing stairs, going to dance, going to sports, cultural activities, etc. Physical exercise is not just playing sports.”
In this regard, he regrets that most gyms are not adapted to older people, although he prefers to avoid speaking in terms of age and do so in terms of frailty, “the symptoms that tell us how people’s muscle mass is”.
Although he recommends as varied as possible, Acosta warns that not all exercises are recommended for all people. “A diabetic cannot take long walks. because your feet don’t feel good and you may have blisters without realizing it. A dementia patient should not do exercises that can disorient him or lose him, someone with osteoarthritis does not have to go up and down stairs with intensity “.
The doctor summarizes the knowledge acquired in recent years in three axioms that, not because they are simple, cease to be important. “Any exercise is better than no exercise; no matter your level of functional ability, you can always exercise; and this exercise needs to be varied.” Keep that in mind the next time you go for a walk.