ALMOST a third of Australians over the age of 65 are doing no exercise at all, and many more are not doing enough to improve strength, co-ordination and balance, a report examining seniors' exercise habits has found.
The study of more than 22,000 Australians over 65, published in the Australian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, revealed that, of the elderly who exercise, most take part in aerobic activities such as walking, which is beneficial to heart fitness but does little to protect the exerciser against falls or loss of bone mass.
The lead author of the study, Dafna Merom, said it was important to find out why. ''It could be an issue of accessibility, it could be a confidence issue, it could be the cost of participation,'' said Associate Professor Merom, of the University of Western Sydney's school of science and health. ''But as we get older we need to provide protection to all of our systems, not just our cardiovascular system.''
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in every 10 days spent in hospital by a person aged 65 and older in 2008-09 was directly caused by an injurious fall.
Anna Wierszalowski used to hate exercise and thought dance was for the ''hip, young and cute looking''. But at almost 65 she is a convert to jazz and tap. Once a week she does a class at Sydney Dance Company where her teacher, Zac Jaffar, ''nearly kills me, but he's fun''. She stumbled upon the class about six months ago after walking into the building to get a brochure. There, she saw men and women into their 70s performing routines inspired by musical theatre.
Since signing up, she said the pain in her hips and legs that used to keep her awake have disappeared. ''Everything's working and I feel more graceful.''
Though activities such as dancing, yoga, weightlifting and tai chi offered some of the best protection against falls, they also had the lowest participation rate by those over 65, the study found. Walking was favoured by nearly half of participants. ''We don't want people to stop walking because it's very beneficial, but we do need to think differently about older people and why we are not making activities like dance more available to them,'' Professor Merom said. ''Less than 3 per cent did a combination of aerobic, strength and balance activities.''
Research was needed to find activities suitable for older people that benefited several types of fitness at once, she said.
with Anne Wang and Lucy Bell Bird