Fitness and what you need to know about aging in the elderly – part two! Part one ended up being so detailed that we had to break it down into two different sections. This is the last portion of our series that has been taking you through age related changes that have an impact on overall fitness and health. We started in the teenage years that talked about how hormonal changes make it the best time to be physically active. We then went decade by decade to where we are now: starting with the sixties and going to the point where you die, age related changes that have an effect on your fitness level.

Fitness In The Elderly

This is the very last part on our series of aging and fitness to help you make the best of your fitness at all stages of life. To sum up the past several decades, your teenage years and the of the twenties, your body spent its time on overdrive, pumping out hormones to help with bone growth, muscle growth, and the best neurological functioning of your life. Basically, your body was at its optimal level for functioning. For those that took advantage of these years through good nutrition and fitness programs, congrats. For those that didn’t, well, your body probably took more of a decline than those who were active but don’t worry, even for the elderly, all is not lost. Originally, this was going to be one whole post but it ended up being so lengthy that it was broken down in to two parts. Part one on fitness and aging in the elderly covered everything you need to know about muscular and skeltal changes that happen. Part two will touch on everything else that has an effect on your level of fitness – nutritional needs, heart and lung needs, and changes that happen in your brain. Enjoy!

Nutritional Needs For The Active Elerdly Person

It goes without saying, nutritional needs change with age. The ability to absorb nutrients as you age decreases. For the average healthy person, there’s also about a fifty percent reduction in blood flow to the kidneys. What this means for you is that adequate hydration and electrolyte replacement is even more crucial, especially if you’re physically active. In situations with excessive sweat loss the kidneys don’t respond as well as they used to and the body’s ability to conserve sodium and potassium depletion is impaired. Make electrolyte replacements a part of your post workout protein shake (2). The body also has a more difficult time filtering out the products of protein breakdown. After age seventy, aim for about 0.6g/kg of protein a day (3).

Once age seventy comes around, the body doesn’t absorb or utilize protein as well. Because of that there can be a drop in muscle mass from lack of adequate protein. Muscle mass is better preserved in the elderly if protein consumption is slightly higher – something that’s even more important to get, especially if you’re a physically active elder. Protein intake should be around 1-1.25 g/kg/day in the healthy, active individual. For those people who have kidney disease, they kidneys don’t work as well as getting rid of protein in the body so you should talk to your doctor about the protein needs for your body. Generally, those with kidney disease have a recommendation of about 0.6mg/kg/day.

One other way to help keep your kidneys and body healthy: drink water! With age the body doesn’t sense the need for water as well as it used to, leading to an impaired thirst mechanism.

Fitness In The Elderly And The Cardiovascular System

Hopefully you’ve made it through your live without smoking. Lung efficiency naturally declines with age but smoking makes the problem even worse – stiffening the lungs at a rapid rate and causing perfusion issues. With age, the amount of active lung tissue also declines and because of that, can be a limiting factor when it comes to physical activity and overall endurance. By age eighty, the amount of air that can fill the lungs is reduced by close to half. The good news: those who are physically active have increased lung elasticity and better oxygen carrying capability than those who don’t.

Naturally as the heart ages, you lose some power in the way the heart contracts and pumps out blood to the rest of the body. The maximum rate at which your heart can beat per minute also decreases (220-age). Overall, cardiac output (amount of blood being pumped to the heart) to the rest of the body declines slowly. More good news: physical activity helps to keep the heart conditioned and helps to make the heart more efficient at getting blood (nutrients and oxygen) out to the rest of your body. Activity also helps to prevent fatty and connective tissues from getting into the heart’s muscular wall which can help prevent heart disease.

Neurological Changes In The Elderly That Effect Fitness

Brain changes – another thing that dwindles with age. Overall reaction time, depth perception, balance, and coordination all start to not be as effective. If you don’t have an instability component in your workout regimen, now is a time to start. Something as simple as walking sideways and tossing a tennis ball back and forth between you and a partner can have great effects on coordination, sensorimotor senses, and cognitive function. Exercise also helps to increase oxygen to the brain, which is always a good thing. Radiology scans show that compared with sedentary adults, those who are physically fit have less tissue loss in the neurons and glial cells (the most abundant type of cells in the brain) in the cerebral cortex.

Fitness and Aging In The Elderly: The Bottom Line

The key to longevity is to never stop moving. A sedentary life, especially as someone ages. If phsyical activity is something that you’ve been accusmed to, it’s not uncommon to progress through your sixties and even seventies carrying out similar type physical activity. As age progresses however, and if one is not used to physical activity, then initial exercise workloads should be slow and progressed gradually three to five days a week with an intensity of 40-80% of max heart rate.

Resistance exercise is recommended with lower initial weights and slower progression. Three sets of 8-10 exercise ranging from 8-10 reps.
For the extreme elderly, exercise regimens should be chosen to safeguard against falls. Balance activity should be incorporated into physical activity as for some people, body weight exercises will be suffice.

I hope you enjoyed our series on aging and how it has an effect on overall fitness levels. Check out your age group to see how you can benefit the most from your workouts given your age. As always, if you have any questions, leave a comment.


1. Clark, M., Corn, R., Lucett, S. NASM Essentials Of Personal Training. National Academy Of Sports Medicine. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2008. Print. 238, 380-381.
2. Porth, Carol Mattson, RN, MSN, PhD. Matfin, Glenn, MB ChB, DGM, FFPM, FACE, FACP, FRCP. Pathiophysiology: Concepts of Altered Health States. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Print. 40-45.
3. Hampl, Jeffry S. Wardlaw, Gordon, M. Perspectives in Nutrition. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., 2007. 197-198. Print. 666-672, 680.
4. Berk, L. Development Through The Lifespan. Bostom: Pearson Education Inc. 2007. Print. 568-576.
5. Fitness In Your Thirties, Forties, and Fifties
6. Fitness In Your Twenties
7. Fitness and Nutrition In Teens and Adolescents