Fely Curva, Ph.D.
Co-Chair, NAHPL Advocacy Committee
Some recent statistics from the 2020 U.S. Census:
About one in five Americans will be age 65 or older by 2040, up from about one in eight in 2000.
The numbers of Americans ages 65 and older will more than double over the next 40 years, reaching 80 million in 2040.
The number of adults ages 85 and older, the group most often needing help with basic personal care, will nearly quadruples between 2000 and 2040.
Older Americans are also living longer. In 1960, men who turned age 62 could expect to live another 15 years. By 2040, they will likely live for another 22 years. For 62-year-old women, the gain in remaining life expectancy between 1960 and 2040 will be four years.
Older adults are working longer. By 2018, 24 percent of men and about 16 percent of women ages 65 and older were in the labor force. These levels are projected to rise further by 2026, to 26 percent for men and 18 percent for women. (1,2)
As the population ages, the biggest challenge ahead is the rate of obesity. Among adults ages 60 and older the rate has been increasing, standing at about 41 percent in 2015-2016 (3). Bold approaches are needed to prevent the obesity epidemic including addressing the racial and ethnic disparities related to stress and differences in access to health care, healthy food, and opportunities for physical activity (4).
In 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition which outlined recommended activities for a lifespan. In the section on older adults, the guidelines outlined the benefits of physical activity including the delays in major disability, prolongs the ability to maintain physical function and mobility to maintain independence longer. The following are the recommended guidelines for older adults (5):
As part of their weekly physical activity, older adults should do multicomponent physical activity that includes balance training as well as aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.
Older adults should determine their level of effort for physical activity relative to their level of fitness.
Older adults with chronic conditions should understand whether and how their conditions affect their ability to do regular physical activity safely. When older adults cannot do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week because of chronic conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.
Adults with chronic conditions or disabilities, who are able, should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
Adults with chronic conditions or disabilities, who are able, should also do muscles strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.
“If you associate enough with older people who do enjoy their lives, who are not stored away in any golden ghettos, you will gain a sense of continuity and of the possibility for a full life.” ~ Margaret Mead