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Inactivity in Older Adults

Older adults are living longer than ever before. The current life expectancy in Canada is 80.93 years,  10 years more than Canadians living 50 years ago (1). Unfortunately increased life expectancy does not necessarily translate into more years of healthy independent living (2).  Although the majority of older adults expect to travel, be active around the home, take up a new hobby or spend more time with their grandchildren, in reality most will spend their last 10 years living in sickness, disability and immobility (3). Lifestyle is largely to blame. A recent study identified the five most important contributors to life expectancy and good health in later years as smoking, alcohol consumption, stress, diet and physical activity (2). Improving these behaviours was estimated to increase life expectancy by  7.5 years, but more importantly has the potential to increase the number of years living in good health by 9.8 years (2). Being physically active alone was shown to increase life expectancy by 2.4 years (2). Unfortunately inactivity is commonplace for Canadian adults with only 15% meeting the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every week in bouts of 10 minutes or more (4,5).

Physical activity in any form including walking, swimming, cycling or tasks around the house is vitally important to maintain good health, especially in older adults.  Active older adults report greater independence, less depression, and are at less risk for the development and progression of many diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and colon and breast cancer (6,7). Active older adults are also at significantly decreased risk for becoming disabled and have a lower mortality rate than their inactive peers.  The physical effects of inactivity extend to the brain as well. Recent reports suggest that exercise has a protective role, lessening the risk of developing various kinds of dementia with age (8).

Starting or progressing an activity program can be a difficult task at any age. Our busy lives and schedules make it difficult to find time for many things especially exercise. However, given the importance of staying active for our health at any age, incorporating exercise in to our daily lives should be a priority. A registered Physiotherapist can help. Physiotherapists have extensive knowledge of muscle and exercise physiology and can provide guidance and education to clients of any age, including older adults, about how to start, maintain or progress an activity programme.  Physical activity has so many important benefits. Give yourself the best gift of all and get active today.



1.  Statistics Canada. Life expectancy at birth, by sex, by province. 2012. Available at: Accessed October 10, 2013.
2.  Manuel DG, Manson H. SEVEN MORE YEARS?: The impact of smoking , alcohol , diet , physical activity and stress on health and life expectancy in Ontario.; 2012.
3.  Heart and Stroke Foundation. Reality check?: Boomer dreams for later life may not Changes Now , Many Baby Boomers Face a Decade of Sickness and Disability. 2013.
4.  Janssen I. Health care costs of physical inactivity in Canadian adults. 2012;806(February):803-806. doi:10.1139/H2012-061.
5.  Colley RC, Garriguet D, Janssen I, Craig CL, Clarke J, Tremblay MS. Physical activity of Canadian adults: accelerometer results from the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey. Health Rep. 2011;22(1):7-14. Available at:
6.  Katzmarzyk PT, Janssen I. The economic costs associated with physical inactivity and obesity in Canada: an update. Can J Appl Physiol. 2004;29(1):90-115. Available at:
7.  Simonsick EM, Lafferty ME, Philips CL, et al. Risk Due to Inactivity in Physically Capable Older Adults. 1993:1443-1450.
8.  Larson EB, Wang L, Bowen JD, Mccormick WC, Teri L, Crane P. Annals of Internal Medicine Article Exercise Is Associated with Reduced Risk for Incident Dementia among Persons 65 Years of Age and Older. 2006:73-82.

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Steph DaSilva
October 16, 2018
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Lisa Streib
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