University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Nancee Blum, MSW
Adjunct Instructor of Psychiatry/Social Work/Nursing
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
"The benefits of an aerobic exercise program are physical and
psychological," says Nancee Blum, social work specialist in
psychiatry at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, who has
taught aerobics classes to older adults.
People, young and old, who exercise regularly handle stress more
effectively and don't get as fatigued. Aerobic exercise may also slow
the aging process. It can help prevent heart disease and
osteoporosis, and it helps fight obesity, making people stronger and
more flexible. It lowers blood pressure, improves breathing, and
those who exercise often have a higher self-image and self-esteem. It
can also improve sleeping habits, appetites, and moods, she says.
"If you're an older adult, aerobic exercise won't make you an
Olympic athlete, but it will help you to perform daily activities
such as lifting grocery bags safely and climbing the stairs more
effectively," Blum adds.
Before beginning an exercise program, consult your physician.
There are several types of aerobic exercise, not just the bouncing
and prancing around you often see on television. Walking, running,
bicycling, and swimming are also considered aerobic exercise. To be
effective, it should be performed for about 30 minutes at least three
times each week, Blum says. "If you decide to walk, bicycle, or swim
for exercise, it helps to find one or two friends to join you on a
regular basis," she adds.
Whatever you choose, be sure it's something you enjoy or you'll
find it difficult to keep at it. "Many people find it's easier to
join an exercise class. If you join a class, try to join one with
members in your own age group," Blum suggests. "Older adults often
drop out of classes with both young and old members because of
The essential elements of aerobic exercise in older adults are the
same as for young adults: safety and comfort, simplicity, variety,
and enjoyment. A typical aerobics class runs about 45 minutes and
includes warm-ups, aerobics, stretching, and a cool down, in that
order. "Warming up gently stretches your muscles and gradually
increases your heart and respiratory rates," Blum says. In addition
to aerobic exercise, aim for two sessions per week of strength
Wear comfortable clothes that don't restrict movement and leg
warmers or over-the-knee socks that can help prevent sore muscles in
the lower leg, she adds. For an aerobics class, a properly fitted
aerobics shoe is recommended. These shoes may also be worn for
walking, but a shoe primarily designed for walking or running may
hold the foot too rigidly for aerobic movements.
The old adage "No pain, no gain," is not true. If a movement
causes pain, stop! Consult your physician if exercise results in
chest pain, dizziness, cold sweats, extreme breathlessness, or very
rapid heart rate that lasts longer than five to 10 minutes after
stopping activity, Blum says.
Moderate exercise is better for everyone, no matter what age.