Admonishments about the negative health consequences of being physically inactive abound—and such concerns are important throughout the entire life-course. We now know that being more physically active at any level is associated with better physical, mental, and cognitive health for the growing number of older adults throughout the world. Yet, being encouraged to be more active does not mean that health care providers and older adults know how to get started and to engage in physical activity safely. In fact, many older adults are not physically activity as they have the mistaken belief that physical activity or “exercise” is dangerous for an older person. We strongly believe that there needs to be a paradigm shift so that health care providers encourage all older adults to engage in the highest level of physical activity they can tolerate, noting that all activity levels have benefits. This can include daily light activities such as housekeeping, bathing, dressing, ambulating) and as possible moderate-intensity activities such as walking (taking 100 steps a minute), dancing, gardening or climbing the stairs. More vigorous activities can also be recommended, if the older adult builds up slowly, and adheres to safety recommendations.
Three members of the Exercise is Medicine Older Adults Committee were instrumental in the development of Exercise and Screening for You (EASY) tool. The major motivation was that many of the existing screening tools were screening out older adults from community-based programs based on the existence of chronic diseases common in old age. Recently updated, EASY can be found on the EASYFORYOU website (www.easyforyou.info). The EASY tool consists of several components: 1) an interactive online tool (6 questions) to assess one’s risk factors associated with exercise; 2) a personalized summary report indicating what to consider and discuss with health care providers before starting an exercise program; 3) safety tips for beginning exercise, when to stop exercising, and when exercising should not be initiated; and 4) links to governmental and professional organization resources. For those without computer access the EASYFORYOU Toolkit can be downloaded.
We emphasize three considerations in getting started with EASY:
1) Despite the decline in physical activity with aging, nearly all older adults can safely meet the national recommendations of engaging in moderate-intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking or gardening) for at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.
2) The EASY tool helps an older adult know when they should see a health care provider to monitor a health care problem that might impact their physical activity program and how to choose activities for optimal benefit given underlying health problems.
3) The tool is not a medical prescription and it is important to refer to the safety checklist tools before beginning any physical activity program.
We welcome use of the EASY by health care providers, exercise program directors, and older adults and have developed a set of terms and conditions for use. This tool has been successfully used in the widespread dissemination of lifestyle enhancement programs for older adults. We would love to hear your experiences in using the tool and have posted brief surveys to the website.
Marcia G. Ory, PhD, MPH, Regents and Distinguished Professor in the School of Public Health, is Founding Director of the Texas A&M Center for Population Health and Aging, College Station, Texas, USA. Contact: [email protected]
Barbara Resnick, PhD, CRNP, Professor University of Maryland School of Nursing, Baltimore, MD and the Sonya Ziporkin Gershowitz Chair in Gerontology. Contact: [email protected]
Michael E. Rogers, PhD, FACSM, Professor in the Department of Human Performance Studies and Director of the Center for Physical Activity and Aging, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA. Contact: [email protected]