Talking With Your Older Patient: A Clinician's Handbook

Encouraging Wellness

At a Glance

  • Talk with your older patients about the value of exercise and physical activity.
  • Encourage patients to be physically active or exercise; the National Institute on Aging's Go4Life® campaign can help.
  • Talk with your older patients about their eating habits.
  • Consider having older patients keep a food diary to help ensure they are getting needed nutrients.

Exercise and Physical Activity

older woman swimmingExercise has proven benefits for older people. It reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, colon cancer, and breast cancer. It also decreases the risk of falls and fall-related injuries.

Like the rest of us, older people may know that exercise is good for their health, but they may not have the motivation or encouragement to do it. You can guide your patients by asking about their daily activities and whether they engage in any kind of regular exercise or physical activity.

There are several ways to encourage older patients to exercise:

  • Whenever appropriate, let them know that regular physical activity—including endurance, muscle-strengthening, balance, and flexibility exercises—is essential for healthy aging.
  • Help patients set realistic goals and develop an exercise plan.
  • Write an exercise prescription, and make it specific, including type, frequency, intensity, and time; follow up to check progress and re-evaluate goals over time.
  • Refer patients to community resources, such as mall-walking groups and senior center fitness classes.
  • Talk to them about Go4Life, NIA's exercise and physical activity campaign. It has exercises, motivational tips, virtual coaches, shared stories and free materials to help older adults start exercising and keep going. Visit

"I'd like you to exercise regularly. Just start low and go slow."

Older manMr. Gupta has a list of excuses for why he couldn't follow Dr. Lipton's exercise recommendation, like exercise is for young people and equipment costs too much. After listening empathetically, Dr. Lipton explains that physical activity is good for people of all ages and that being sedentary is far more dangerous than exercising. He suggests that Mr. Gupta start by walking for 10 minutes at a time and build up to 150 minutes of physical activity each week. The only equipment he will need is a pair of comfortable walking shoes.


Older patients may develop poor eating habits for many reasons. These can range from a decreased sense of smell and taste to teeth problems or depression. Older people may also have difficulty getting to a supermarket or standing long enough to cook a meal. And, although energy needs may decrease with age, the need for certain vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin D, and vitamins B6 and B12, increases after age 50.

Try these strategies to encourage healthy diets:

  • Emphasize that good nutrition can have an impact on well-being and independence.
  • If needed, suggest liquid nutrition supplements, but emphasize the benefits of solid foods.
  • If needed, suggest multivitamins that fulfill 100 percent of the recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals for older people, but not megadoses.
  • Offer a referral to a nutrition services program, such as Meals on Wheels. Programs in your area are provided by the local Area Agency on Aging or Tribal Senior Services. Contact the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 for your Area Agency on Aging.
  • Suggest NIA's resource, What's On Your Plate? Smart Food Choices for Healthy Aging.

Too Old to Exercise? Studies Say No!

  • Together, exercise and lifestyle changes, such as becoming more active and eating healthy food, reduce the risk of diabetes in high-risk older people. In one study, lifestyle changes led to a 71 percent decrease in diabetes among people 60 and older.
  • In another study, moderate exercise was effective at reducing stress and sleep problems in older women caring for a family member with dementia.
  • Older people who exercise moderately are able to fall asleep quickly, sleep for longer periods, and get better quality of sleep.
  • Researchers also found that exercise, which can improve balance, reduced falls among older people by 33 percent.
  • Walking and strength-building exercises by people with knee osteoarthritis help reduce pain and maintain function and quality of life.

For more information on exercise, nutrition, and older people, contact:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1-800-232-4636 (toll-free)
1-888-232-6348 (TTY/toll-free)
Healthy Aging:
Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity:

CDC has resources on nutrition and physical activity for older adults. The Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity addresses how healthy eating habits and exercise can improve health and prevent and control chronic diseases.

Department of Agriculture
Food and Nutrition Information Center
National Agricultural Library

The website provides more than 2,000 links to current, reliable nutrition resources.

National Institute on Aging
Go4Life® Exercise and Physical Activity Campaign
1-800-222-2225 (toll-free)
1-800-222-4225 (TTY/toll-free)

NIA’s Go4Life campaign has free online and print materials in English and Spanish to show older adults how to start and maintain a safe, effective exercise routine that includes endurance, flexibility, balance, and strength-training. NIA also offers information about how to make smart food choices for healthy aging.

National Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Aging
Florida International University

The Center helps to develop and implement nutrition programs for a variety of settings. One such program is YouCan! Steps to Healthier Aging.


Fecha de publicación: Abril 2016
Última actualización: Abril 27, 2017