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Age is no barrier to exercise prescription

Photo: Age is no barrier to exercise prescription
A recent story in Reader’s Digest suggesting that specific exercises should avoided at age 50 has been rebuked by the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) who maintain that exercise programs should be based on individual ability and needs, rather than age.

The article, which is now modified to '14 Exercises You Should Modify if You're Over 50' advises exercises, such as hot yoga, interval training, spin classes and push-ups, that may be challenging or dangerous at the half-century mark.

APA National President Phil Calvert stated that exercise limitations based on age are contrary to the best available evidence and urged Reader’s Digest to retract their article originally titled ‘14 Exercises to Never Do After Age 50.’

“Our role is to guide the community to adopt evidence-informed choices that will optimise their health and quality of life. This includes highlighting information that is contrary to current evidence,” said Mr Calvert.
Last month the APA hosted a debate titled “Does ageism influence how we prescribe exercise to older adults?” Physiotherapist Meg Lowry, chair of the Queensland Gerontology committee for the APA highlighted the prevalence of ageism in our community.

"It is important that we recognise we all have the potential to make inaccurate assumptions about what is and is not appropriate for a person's age. But there is a strong body of evidence to suggest that heavy strength training, challenging balance exercises and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are advantageous for many older adults,” said Ms Lowry.

“In some cases, 80-year olds can be capable of more than the average 40-year-old, including heavy gym-based exercise. It’s our role as physiotherapists to treat every person as an individual, based on their needs rather than age.

"To suggest that a leg press or a loaded squat is unsuitable for a person over 50 steers them away from the very exercises that are scientifically proven to benefit their mood, metabolism, brain health, bone density, and many other health factors,” said Ms Lowry.

Ms Lowry explains that recent research demonstrates that leg press exercises can reduce the risk of falls and has engendered a call for more significant investment in physiotherapy and quality resistance training machines within residential aged care facilities.

“Not everybody who walks in off the street is ready for squats with a heavy barbell on their shoulders. We don’t need to start with those exercises from day one, but they should never be off the menu based on somebody’s age,” said Ms Lowry.

Elite physiotherapist Kusal Goonewardena said movement and exercise are essential at any age, and in this sense, age is nothing more than a number.

“People need to be careful not to over-do it and need to listen to their body. But over-50s should also be doing a mix of low, medium and high-intensity exercise.

“Last year a study found a 105-year-old cyclist in France increased his fitness levels by incorporating some higher intensity exercise,” said Goonewardena

Dr Christian Barton, a post-doctoral researcher at La Trobe University, currently leads a research program to provide physiotherapy-led exercise, including strength training, for Australians with osteoarthritis.

“Exercise is the most evidence-based treatment for people with osteoarthritis, and in many cases can allow them to avoid surgery and reduce the need for painkillers. But it must be progressed to ensure people get stronger. The article in ‘Readers Digest’ sends the wrong message,” said Dr Barton.


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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.