Singaporean Seniors: Physical deterioration and how to combat it

Singaporean Seniors: Physical deterioration and how to combat it

Only about 1 in 10 Singaporeans over 50 exercises enough to gain any cardiovascular benefit, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health. Studies have shown that people over the age of 65 especially require adequate fitness levels to help them maintain independence, recover from illness and reduce their high risk of disease.

Physical decline in older age

About half of the physical decline associated with ageing may be due to a lack of physical activity. Without regular exercise, elderly people can experience a range of health problems including:

  • Reduced muscle mass, strength and physical endurance
  • Reduced coordination and balance
  • Reduced joint flexibility and mobility
  • Reduced cardiovascular and respiratory function
  • Reduced bone strength
  • Increased body fat levels
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased susceptibility to anxiety and depression
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Common myths

Many older people believe that exercise is no longer appropriate for them. Some common misconceptions that prompt older people to abandon physical activity include:

  • Older people are frail and physically weak.
  • The human body does not need as much physical activity as it ages.
  • Exercising is hazardous for older people because they may injure themselves.
  • Only vigorous and sustained exercise is of any use.

Other factors that may contribute to the lack of physical exercise among people over 50 years include:

  • Preference for sedentary activities, such as reading and socialising.
  • Some elderly people may be put off by the relatively high cost of some sports equipment.
  • Many sports and activities tend to attract young adults, so older people may feel unwelcome.
  • The physical fitness marketplace has failed to include and attract older people

Benefits of exercise to the elderly

Muscle development

Some studies suggest that we lose around 3kg of lean muscle every decade after hitting middle age. The muscle fibres that seem to be most affected are those of the ‘fast twitch’ variety, which govern strength and speedy contraction, but muscle mass can increase in the older person after regularly exercising for a relatively short period of time.


Bone density begins to decline after the age of 40, but accelerates as we turn 50. As a result, older people are more prone to bone fractures. Weight-bearing exercises, in particular, help to keep bones healthy and strong and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Heart and lungs

Moderate intensity exercise is most favourable: for example, exercising at about 70 per cent of the individual’s maximum heart rate (220 beats per minute minus your age). Studies show that cardiorespiratory fitness takes longer to achieve in an older person compared to a younger person, but the physical benefits are similar. Regardless of age, people are able to improve their cardiorespiratory fitness through regular exercise.


The joints of the body require regular movement to remain supple and healthy. People with arthritis can benefit from aerobic and strengthening exercise programmes.

Body fat

Excessive body fat has been associated with a range of diseases including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Regular exercise burns calories, increases muscle mass and speeds up metabolism. 

Getting active

Suggestions include:

  • If you are over 40 years, obese, suffer from a chronic illness or have been sedentary for some time, see your doctor before you start a new exercise regimen.
  • Choose interesting activities.  You are more likely to keep up with an exercise routine if it is fun
  • Exercise with friends. Safe, easy and comfortable forms of exercise include walking, swimming and cycling.
  • Start slowly and aim for small improvements. 
  • Check your pulse frequently to make sure you are not overexerting yourself
  • Choose appropriate clothing and safety gear.
  • Stay hydrated and drink lots of water.

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