Older Adults – How to Strengthen Your Heart, Bones and Muscles and Lower Risk for Cancer

Whatever your age, being physically active helps you reduce risk for several cancers, type-2 diabetes and heart disease. It's never too late to get started or to get back into exercising; in fact staying strong and limber becomes even more important with aging. In addition to helping ward off chronic diseases, moving more:

  • Improves balance
  • Reduces risk of falls
  • Helps maintain muscle and stronger bones
  • Allows you to stay active longer and be more independent

For cancer prevention AICR recommends beig modertately active at least 30 minutes every day. US government guidelines say adults - including those over 65 - should also do muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days a week to boost balance and strength.

If you are not quite there, now is the perfect time to up your game.

Boost your heart rate:

If you aren't active, start with simple activities like walking or riding a bicycle to get your heart beating a little faster. Gradually build up your minutes of activity. For example walk for 5-10 minutes today and add a minute or two every day - or every week - depending on your fitness level, to ease into longer activity periods

Once you’ve built up your endurance, meet your 30-plus minutes of activity by doing it all at one time or doing small chunks more often. For example, do ten minutes of heart-pumping activity like brisk walking at least three times during the day, or head to a gym or for a long (30 minutes or more) swim or dance class every day.

If you're at risk for falling, try trekking poles or other walking sticks to improve your stability and balance. Adding activity can improve your quality of life if you have diabetes, heart disease or arthritis. If you have concerns, discuss appropriate activities with your health care provider.

Physical activity and lower cancer risk

Along with lower risk of colorectal cancer, being active every day for 30 minutes lowers risk of other cancers.

Strategies to get started:

  • Have good quality, comfortable shoes: Good shoes can help prevent injury and should be comfortable. You can visit a specialty running/walking store to get an expert fit.
  • Be accountable: Walk or sign up for classes with a friend so you are more likely to stick to your activity plan. Try out some physical activity apps like MyFitnessPal or get a Fitbit - these can connect you with friends and groups for support. 
  • Find a furry companion: Walk with a pet or volunteer at the local shelter as a dog-walker.
  • Turn up the volume: Listen to music, audio books or podcasts to keep you entertained during your activity. 

    Strength building activities:

    Strengthen your muscles and bone with resistance and/or weight training at least two days a week. The following ideas can help you include all six major muscle groups safely:

    • Try resistance bands: inexpensive, easy to use at home, and portable for traveling. Get started with AICR’s video on resistance training and learn more on the related blog.
    • Use everyday objects at home: with a chair, tennis ball and light weights, you can do 17 exercises at home to strengthen your upper and lower body using Workout to Go: Sample Exercise Routine from the National Institute on Aging at NIH.
    • Learn from expert videos: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a series of short videos showing how to do muscle strengthening at home and at the gym.


    More Resources: 

    The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability has articles, factsheets and videos to help people with disability get active in creative ways.

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