Your kids are out on their own. Your home and life are yours again. Maybe you are even retired. It is time to enjoy the good life—travel, grandchildren, hobbies. But, the good life can only be yours if your body is up to it. This is where exercise comes in.
Fitness is simply a matter of "use it or lose it." By using your muscles (including your heart muscle), you make these muscles stronger and more efficient. Much of the frailty that accompanies old age is due to lack of use. But even if you have not stayed physically active over the years, you can still get your body working smoothly again.
Warding Off Disease and Welcoming an Active Life
In addition to keeping your motor running and your body ready for action, exercise helps ward off a number of diseases common in old age. Exercise can help to prevent:
In addition, exercise can be beneficial for many conditions, like arthritis, diabetes, menopause, insomnia, and constipation. Weight bearing exercise (eg, walking, jogging, stair climbing) helps to build strong bones and lower your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Learning About Good Exercises
A good exercise program for older people includes aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching exercises. If you are new to exercise, you will need to start slow and build up to the recommendations listed below.
Stretching exercises are important for keeping your muscles flexible and your joints strong with a good range of motion. You can do stretching exercises everyday.
Examples of good stretching exercises for older people include:
- Tai chi
Your doctor can recommend a safe stretching program for you.
Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and burns calories. Low-impact aerobic exercises are best for older people because they put less strain on the joints. Try to aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week. You may have to start with just 10 minutes at first. Low-impact aerobic exercises include:
- Low-impact aerobics classes
In addition to these exercises, it may be helpful for you to have warm-up and cool-down routines. You can warm-up your body by doing activities, like walking or jogging in place before each exercise session. During the cool-down, you may want to do some gentle stretching.
Strengthening your muscles will help you maintain balance and reduce your risk of falling. In addition, strength training strengthens your bones and reduces your risk of fractures and osteoporosis. Try to do strength training exercises at least twice per week.
Try to work up to 2-3 sets, doing 8-12 repetitions of each exercise.
Do not do your strength training on consecutive days because your muscles need to rest between sessions. To learn the proper form for each exercise, take a strength training class or work with a qualified athletic trainer.
Strength training exercises include:
- Calisthenics, such as push-ups, sit-ups, and chin-ups
Weight lifting, using:
- Free weights
- Weight machines
- Resistance bands
Before you start an exercise program, it is best to talk to your doctor. Depending on your health, she may have some recommendations or restrictions.
If you are new to exercise, it is best to either take a class at your local gym or make an appointment with a qualified athletic trainer who can show you the proper way to do each exercise. Gyms and health clubs offer a wide array of classes, such as yoga, Tai chi, water aerobics, strength training, and low-impact aerobics. And some of these classes are specially designed for older people.
After safety, the most important element in your exercise program is enjoyment. Choose activities you enjoy so you will keep on doing them. For instance, sign up for a yoga class or a line dancing class with a friend. Or take a daily walk with a family member. Be creative! Schedule a weekly golf or tennis game. If you are still working, take a walk at lunchtime. If you have errands to do close to home, walk or ride your bicycle there and back.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 05/2012 -
- Update Date: 05/14/2012 -