Improving the health of adults over 50, through physical activity
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Strategies to Increase Physical Activity

How to Assess Current Levels of Physical Activity

Routinely ask patients during their history and physical if they are currently physically active. This question may be considered a "vital sign" in the history.
  • "Do you participate in physical activity regularly; if so, what type, how long, and how often?"
  • "Are you active 30 minutes a day most days of the week?"
  • "Do you plan to become active in the next few months?"
  • Other specific questions are helpful, such as, "Do you take the stairs when possible", or "Do you work in the garden regularly". Then determine if the patient is meeting the recommended levels of being moderately active for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.

    For sedentary individuals who are reluctant to change, healthcare providers should assess patient fears about physical activity. Have patients complete the sentence, "The one thing that I fear about physical activity is__________". Address these worries to assess their readiness to increase physical activity.

    How to recommend patients increase physical activity

    1. Identify opportunities to add more physical activity into everyday life.
      • Walk or ride a bike rather than driving
      • Walk the dog
      • Take the stairs instead of an elevator
      • Begin hobbies that require physical activity (such as gardening or hiking)
      • Incorporate light physical activity into daily routine
      • Park the car farther away and walk
      • Participate in physical activities with grandchildren
    2. Recommend individuals reach a goal of 30 minutes of physical activity that makes you breathe harder on most or all days of the week. Emphasize it's OK for them to start at 5 or 10 minutes of easy and fun activity, and work up to 30 minutes of activity on most days of the week. Individuals may also break up the 30 minutes into smaller, 10-minute segments.
    3. Prescribe individualized programs based on individual goals that incorporate cardiovascular, strength, flexibility, and balance activities such as the First Step to Active HealthT program. Specific, written physical activity prescriptions involving goal setting and follow-up are most effective.
    4. Refer patients to local community resources such as senior centers, medical fitness facilities, or university aging centers with evidence-based, structured physical activity programs.
    The most important and valuable strategy for the healthcare professional is to promote behavioral changes to increase daily physical activity levels. How to change perceptions and behaviors

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