Studies have shown that regular physical activity helps prevent, delay and even reverse disease and disability. While modern medicine may be able to control chronic illness, quality of life is also important. Staying active protects physical and social independence, self-confidence and self-esteem. Exercise improves life in many ways, while keeping you young at heart.
Older adults are often hesitant to exercise. They fear that physical activity may be too strenuous or even do harm. However, research has shown that all older adults, from 50 to 90 years young, damage health far more by not exercising. Read on to remove the barriers and mistaken ideas that may keep you from exercise – your personal fountain of youth.
Exercise improves life in many ways, while keeping you young at heart.
True, you may no longer bounce back as you did at the age of 20. However, even an older body is an amazingly responsive piece of machinery with the ability to spring back. People up to the age of 90 have hugely improved their fitness and health conditions by becoming more active.
One of my clients will turn 70 this year. Until two years ago, he led a fairly inactive life. His blood pressure has read on the high side since he was in his early 20s. By exercising moderately three times a week, he lowered his blood pressure to a healthy level within months. Just goes to show that you are never too old, too frail or too out of shape to start exercising!
Two years ago, my almost-70-year-old friend had nothing near the energy and endurance he has today. As with anything in life, you must start somewhere in order to get anywhere. Start slowly and you will be surprised just how quickly strength and stamina develop. Once you gain and experience this new energy, you will never want to be without it again.
Making appointments with your doctor is a necessary part of protecting your health. Just as you make these visits a priority, schedule time for physical activity. You are investing in your health. By exercising regularly, you may even need fewer visits with your doctor.
Schedule workouts as appointments that simply cannot be missed. Hiring a personal trainer or joining an exercise group may help. Such choices can keep you accountable while making fitness fun and enjoyable.
Not knowing how to start exercising regularly can be a huge barrier. A complete exercise program should allow you to build endurance, strength, balance and flexibility. Here are some easy ways to get started.
Endurance involves many activities such as walking, swimming, biking, even gardening and raking leaves. Such activities improve heart and lung health, and may delay or improve conditions including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers.
Build endurance gradually. Start with as little as five minutes of activity, especially if you have been inactive for a long time. Slowly build up to no less than 10 minutes at a time, at a moderate level that increases breathing and heart rate. The activity should feel a little hard, but not to the point where you are completely breathless and cannot talk.
Eventually, you’ll want to be doing at least 30 minutes of activity on most or all days of the week. You can even break it into three 10-minute sessions throughout the day, if you are very busy or lack energy.
Strength training is thought to be the single most important part of an exercise program in slowing and reversing the aging process. It involves moving against resistance that comes from your own body weight, weights and resistance bands.
After the age of 50, a person loses on average 10 to 15 per cent of muscle each decade. Strength training helps reverse this loss and increases muscle size. Ideally, your body will develop a higher metabolism that keeps weight and blood glucose (sugar) in check.
Strength training improves strength, posture, and protects joints during other daily activities. As it builds bone density, your risk of osteoporosis will be lowered.
Do strength training for all major muscle groups two to three times a week. Rest at least 48 hours between exercise sessions. Start with enough resistance to find eight to 20 repetitions challenging, but not so much that you cannot do the exercise properly. As you gain in strength, increase resistance gradually so you can keep getting stronger.
Proper technique is essential when building strength. If you are new to such training, consult a fitness professional before getting started.
Balance exercises build leg strength and improve stability, ideally keeping you from falling. As we age, falls and broken bones can mean significant disability. Studies have shown that simple strength and balance improvements can reduce your risk of falling by up to 40 per cent.
Many great balance-training tools are available at gyms and fitness stores. However, you can try this simple exercise at home without any equipment. Standing on one leg, hold onto a nearby table with one hand. As your balance improves, try holding on with only a fingertip. Next, try this exercise without holding on at all. Make sure you always have a sturdy surface to grab quickly in case you need it.
Flexibility and stretching exercises increase the range of motion around your joints. You move more easily, without feeling stiff. Regular stretching can keep you more active as you age.
To avoid injury, always warm up muscles before stretching. Slowly stretch into the desired position only to the point where you feel a mild tension. Hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Relax, and repeat up to five times, trying to stretch farther each time.
Stretching should be pain free, so ease off if it begins to hurt. Avoid bouncing or jerking while in a stretch as it can hurt you. To increase and maintain mobility, try to stretch all major muscle groups most days of the week.
As you age, you may become more fragile or have a chronic disease that requires precautions when you exercise. Although the benefits far outweigh the risks, it is still important to talk with your doctor before trying any new physical activity. Finally, it is wise to discuss an exercise program with a trained fitness professional before you begin.
Do not start an exercise program until you have completed a cardiac rehabilitation program and/or have consulted with a cardiologist.
If your bones are less dense or you have already developed osteoporosis, you must take a few safety precautions as you exercise or do daily activities. Certain movements may be dangerous due to the stress they put on your spine.
Once your family doctor or specialist gives you the go-ahead, there are no age limits to exercising. Exercise can truly improve quality of life. Just the urge to maintain independence can motivate us to remain active. Use exercise as your way of staying young. As Picasso said, “Age matters only when one is aging.”