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Tips for older adults and people with health issues who want to start an exercise program

Adopting a healthier lifestyle and getting more fit is a great goal for anyone, including older adults and people with health issues. However, it’s recommended for some individuals to get clearance from their doctor before starting an exercise program. These include people with chronic conditions, people over age 65 and people who have a physical disability.

Ananya Banerjee, PhD, registered kinesiologist with the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative at Women’s College Hospital (WCH), recommends that if it is feasible, people in these groups see a registered physiotherapist or a registered kinesiologist for advice on setting up an exercise program. People who are employed may have coverage through a benefits program.

“A physiotherapist can do an assessment to see their overall physical health and will also be able to give them advice in terms of certain exercises they should avoid or certain exercises that they should be doing more because of their chronic condition or their disability.”

People with certain conditions, such as heart disease and cancer, are often eligible for targeted rehabilitation programs that are available through hospitals and are often free of charge.

“The nice thing about rehab programs is you’re under medical supervision,” Banerjee says. “For a lot of people with a chronic condition or a disability, they are able to gain more confidence in their ability to exercise because they know they are being supervised systematically. Over time, they become more confident that they can do this outside the context of the rehab program.”

Research has shown clear benefits from cardiac rehab programs like the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative at WCH. People who complete a cardiac rehab program after a heart attack or a cardiac event have better quality of life and significantly lower risk of dying from a future cardiac event than people who don’t do a rehab program.

Canadian physical activity guidelines recommend getting 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous activity. For example, taking a brisk 30-minute walk five times per week. Because a chronic condition or disability can affect a person differently on different days, Banerjee suggests a flexible approach to exercise that can accommodate an individual’s physical health.

“If you’re not having a good day, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be exercising,” Banerjee says. “You can always do a little bit less. The goal is to at least do something. So if you feel you can’t get in 30 minutes of walking because your hip feels a little bit sore today, maybe your goal should be to do 10 minutes.”

However, she stresses the importance of listening to your body.

“If you feel like you’re in extreme pain or discomfort, then it’s OK to avoid physical activity for that day,” Banerjee says. “Once you’re feeling better, you can ease back into it.”


This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: Feb. 24, 2016

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