Loving physical activity; exercise guidelines for seniors
November 2007
Shape Up America! Newsletter


Loving Physical Activity
by Craig Buschner, EdD
Here are some things people say about physical activity: "I love to dance," "My passion is kayaking," "I'm addicted to golf," "I can't wait to jog," "I feel soulful doing yoga," "I enjoy playing basketball." All of these comments reflect positive feelings about the nature of physical activity that grew out of their personal experiences.

Yet, recent studies show that nearly one-fourth of U.S. adults engage in no regular physical activity.1 Consequently, many Americans have never experienced the pleasures of physical activity nor the empowerment associated with successful weight management. Disturbingly, the percentage of young people who are overweight has tripled since 1980.

So, how do we get more youths and adults to enjoy physical activity? How can teachers, parents, coaches and community leaders motivate people to initiate and sustain physical activity? How do we rekindle and leverage the natural instinct toward play and build confidence in the ability to move and be active?

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) is a nonprofit professional membership organization of physical educators that is doing its part to address these important questions. NASPE envisions a society in which all individuals are physically educated to participate in and appreciate lifelong physical activity.

Physical education plays a vital role in promoting good health. It builds positive experiences with physical activity, which increases skills and confidence and reveals the pleasures of physical activity. These experiences contribute to lasting positive feelings about being active that complement the well-known physiological benefits of physical activity such as lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease, stronger bones and improved flexibility. Evidence has demonstrated that children and adults are more likely to engage in physical activity when it is enjoyable.2,3

Despite the wealth of information extolling the virtues of physical activity, many youth and adults dislike exercise. For them, exercise or "working out" connotes work, discomfort, sweat, military training, agonizing athletic practices and possibly pain. For overweight youth, exercise can sometimes be associated with humiliating experiences.

As physical educators, the mind-set we are trained to inculcate is an intrinsic love of physically active play and movement. We know how to develop a positive learning environment within an atmosphere of respect and high expectations. Through a properly designed physical education experience, children are given a safe environment in which to try, fail and try again, free of criticism or harassment. For adults and children alike, we actively discourage using exercise as a form of punishment or discipline — a practice that destroys a loving relationship with physical activity.

Enjoyment of physical activity is related to the development of competence and confidence. It grows out of the experience of overcoming challenges and persisting in the face of difficulty. Enhanced self-efficacy — a sense of "I can do this" — is linked to long-term physical activity adherence and commitment.

It's no secret that humans are more likely to spend their discretionary time doing what they are good at and enjoy. Thus, it's central to believe in one's ability to be successful, set realistic goals and practice positive self-talk.

A well-rounded physical education experience will encourage individuals to savor the delights of physical activity by allowing time for the educator to ask how they feel before, during and after physical activity. People deserve a chance to sense the mood changes resulting from physical activity, some of which can be subtle: reduced muscle tension, relaxation, accomplishment and sometimes euphoria ("runners high").

Finding joy in or a love for physical activity can be a highly individual experience. What might be enjoyable or fun for some people may be unpleasant for others. Some love the process of jogging but many others do not. Some people like competition while others find it limiting or discouraging. And some like the exhilaration of group activities while others prefer to go solo.

A competent physical educator can identify activities that suit the capabilities and preferences of individuals of any age. This will help the individuals grow and develop the skills and confidence they need for a sustained enjoyment of a physically active lifestyle. In this way, physical education lays the foundation for both health and well being.

Craig Buschner, EdD, is the president of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and a professor of kinesiology at California State University, Chico.

Physical Activity Recommendations
Part II: Guidelines for Older Adults
by Barbara J. Moore, PhD
When he was 99, George Burns, the comedian, said that if he had known he was going to live so long, he would have taken better care of himself. To help you take better care of yourself, nothing is more important than staying physically active. This month, we will focus on the newly published activity recommendations for older adults, in Part II of this three-part series. Recommendations for children will be covered in Part III.

As we mentioned in Part I of this series, not enough adults are meeting current recommendations for physical activity and the proportion that meets recommendations declines with age.

Percent Meeting Physical Activity Recommendations, by Age, 2005

To change this picture, the American College of Sports Medicine has collaborated with the American Heart Association to establish physical activity recommendations for adults ages 65 years and older.1 These recommendations can also be used for younger adults ages 50-64 with chronic conditions or functional limitations that affect movement or physical activity, such as climbing stairs.

To promote good health, the recommendations for older adults are:

  • Start and get help if needed — Realize that for older adults with certain physical conditions or functional impairments, it may be appropriate to aim for goals that are lower (less demanding) than the physical activity recommendations outlined below. Consult a medical professional with any concerns about how to safely implement these recommendations.

  • Aerobic Activity — Moderate-intensity physical activity for 30 minutes on five days a week OR vigorous-intensity aerobic activity for 20 minutes on three days a week OR a combination of the two approaches. Note that this recommended level of physical activity is to be ADDED TO customary activities of daily living. For older adults who may fatigue easily, 10 minute bouts — with periods of rest in between — can be used to accumulate 30 minutes of activity.

    Moderate-intensity activity means a brisk walk or other activity which noticeably increases the heart rate. During moderate-intensity activity, it should be possible to talk or possibly to sing. Vigorous-intensity activity includes jogging or any other aerobic activity that causes rapid breathing and a substantial increase in heart rate. When activity is performed at vigorous intensity, it should be difficult to talk and not possible to sing.

  • Muscle-Strengthening Activity — This type of activity, also known as weight training or resistance exercise, is extremely important for seniors. It is recommended on two nonconsecutive days a week. A well-rounded weight training program consists of 8-10 exercises selected to cover major muscle groups in the upper and lower body. Enough weight should be used to permit the completion of 10-15 repetitions in good form before fatigue is reached.

    Some seniors may need to aim for more modest goals, especially when beginning weight training, and may never reach these recommended goals. That is OK. Remember that quality, or good form, is more important than quantity. After weeks or months, progressively more weight can be added, but good form should be maintained at all times.

  • Balance — The risk of falls increases with age. Exercises to improve balance should be part of a well-rounded exercise plan for older adults and are especially important for those at risk of falling.

  • Flexibility — Our bodies stiffen with age. Exercises designed to maintain or increase flexibility should be performed for at least 10 minutes a day, two days a week. It may be more comfortable to stretch the muscles and tendons after a 10-minute warm up.

  • Functional Health — Physical activity makes the activities of daily living, such as walking, dressing, cleaning and caring for oneself, gardening and house chores easier to carry out.

  • Exceeding Recommendations — Older adults who feel they can exceed the minimum recommendations outlined above should try it. This will yield further fitness dividends, build muscle and bone, and improve certain diseases or conditions. In addition to improved health and reduced disease risk, the most important benefits are increased mobility, productivity and independence.

  • Exercise Plan — All individuals should have a physical activity plan. A well-rounded plan will incorporate each of the elements discussed above and specify how, when and where each activity will be performed. The exercise plan should be re-evaluated periodically or as abilities improve or health status changes.

  • Prevention of Weight Gain — More activity than recommended above or activity of a longer duration may be needed to prevent unhealthy weight gain in older adults. Diet may also need to be adjusted and other factors that affect body weight may need to be considered. Most of the studies of weight gain prevention focus on prevention of regain after significant weight loss. These studies suggest that 60-90 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a day may be necessary for weight maintenance after weight loss. But for prevention of weight gain in the first place, more research is needed to make authoritative recommendations, especially for older adults.

My Story
"The Fat Cats," as Brenda and her e-mail friend call themselves, show how teaming up for support and encouragement can help make losing weight a winning proposition.

In May of 2007, I entered the hospital with an inner ear infection. At that time I weighed in at 196 lbs. While there, I tried to be mindful of the food I put in my mouth. Of course I was in physical therapy, also.

I was in the hospital for a month, and after I was released I continued my weight journey. I lost about 20 lbs. over approximately a four-month period.

An e-mail friend and I began a weight program between ourselves on October 11, 2007. We are called "The Fat Cats." I personally keep our weigh-in progress on my computer. We weigh-in and send each other an e-mail of our weekly progress. Read More…

If you would like to share your personal success story and be an inspiration to others who desire to lose weight, simply use our story submission system on the SUA Web site.

Recipe of the Month
Sweet potatoes are rich in the antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamin C. Try this tasty, low fat recipe as a side dish or for dessert.
Makes 6 servings, 1/2 cup each


  • 1 cup sweet potato, cooked, mashed
  • 1/2 cup banana (about 2 small), mashed
  • 1 cup evaporated skim milk
  • 2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 2 egg yolks (or 1/3 cup egg substitute), beaten
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • As needed, nonstick cooking spray


  1. In medium bowl, stir together sweet potato and banana. Add milk, blending well.
  2. Add brown sugar, egg yolks, and salt, mixing thoroughly.
  3. Spray 1-quart casserole with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer sweet potato mixture to casserole dish.
  4. Combine raisins, sugar, and cinnamon. Sprinkle over top of sweet potato mixture.
  5. Bake in preheated 325 F oven for 40-45 minutes, or until knife inserted near center comes out clean.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 160 calories, 2 grams total fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 72 milligrams* cholesterol, 32 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams protein, 2 grams dietary fiber, 255 milligrams sodium *If using egg substitute, cholesterol will be lower.

Source: The Heart Truth for Women, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/hearttruth/material/factsheet_recipes.pdf

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Editor: Adrienne Forman, MS, RD

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