Current Cardio Guidelines for Seniors

Many of us exercise to remain vibrant and active throughout our entire lives. Though none of us is exempt from aging, we can slow the process with regular exercise. Even better, we can reap the same benefits of exercise well into our 60s and beyond — benefits that include increased strength, improved balance, more endurance, higher bone density, lower blood pressure and decreased risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

With an expected 71 million seniors in the U.S. by 2030, there is an increasing amount of interest in exercise and, more importantly, the recommendations that go with senior fitness. Not surprisingly, the current American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guidelines for adults older than 65 are essentially the same to those who are younger. The guidelines are broken down into three categories: cardiovascular training, resistance training, and balance and flexibility. For this month’s column, we’ll cover cardiovascular training.

The effect of aging can have a significant impact on cardiovascular output. In fact, it has been found that VO2max (indicator of overall cardiovascular function) decreases approximately 5 to 15 percent per decade beginning at 25-30 years of age. The good news, however, is that older people can have the same adaptations to regular aerobic training as well as their younger counterparts, achieving a range of 10 to 30 percent increase in VO2max in response to cardiovascular training as young adults. Of course, aerobic activity is needed in addition to routine activities of daily life, such as self care, casual walking, grocery shopping or activities that last less than 10 minutes, such as walking to the parking lot or taking out the trash.

For healthy adults older than 65 — or adults between the ages of 50 and 64 with chronic conditions such as arthritis — ACSM recommends moderately intense aerobic exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week; or vigorously intense aerobic exercise 20 minutes a day, three days a week.

The 30-minute recommendation is for the average healthy adult to maintain health and reduce the risk for chronic disease. It should be noted that more is better! To lose weight or maintain weight loss — or further reduce the risk of chronic disease — 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity might be necessary.

Moderate intensity means working at a level of 5-6 on a scale of 10. This should be hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat, yet still be able to carry on a conversation. Vigorous activity is around 7-8 on a scale of 10. It raises your heart rate even more, producing more sweat and still being able to carry on a conversation, while preferring not to.

Also, short bouts of exercise throughout the day are OK if they are at least 10 minutes in length. Plus, moderately or vigorously intense activities performed as a part of daily life (brisk walking to work, gardening with a shovel, carpentry) performed in bouts of 10 minutes or more can be counted toward this recommendation as well.