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Staying Active to Enjoy Your Later Years

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IMAGE 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 when regular exercise can help.

Under normal conditions, fitness is simply a matter of "use it or lose it." Using your muscles makes them stronger and more efficient. Much of the frailty that accompanies old age is due to lack of use. The good new is, if you have not stayed physically active over the years, you can still get your body working smoothly again.

Reasons to Welcome an Active Life

In addition to keeping your motor running and your body ready for action, exercise helps ward off a number of diseases that are associated with aging. Exercise can help to prevent:

In addition, exercise can be beneficial for many conditions, like arthritis, diabetes, menopause , insomnia , and constipation . Weight bearing exercise, such as walking, jogging, and stair climbing, helps to build strong bones and lower your risk of developing osteoporosis .

Learning About Good Exercises

A well-rounded exercise program 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

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 include:

Your doctor can recommend a safe stretching program for you.

Aerobic Exercise

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, a few times per day at first. Low-impact aerobic exercises include:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Bicycling
  • Rowing
  • Dancing
  • 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 to increase flexibility and range of motion.

Strength Training

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 osteoporosis, which can lead to fractures . 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

Getting Started

Before you start an exercise program, it is best to talk to your doctor . Depending on your health, there may be some recommendations or restrictions that apply to you.

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 adults. Shop around and look for special offers for gym memberships. Some gyms include working with a trainer or exercise classes as part of the membership package. Others may not require a contract or money in advance. Think about what you want out of a gym membership and get your questions answered before signing up. It is an important step because your ultimate goal is to use the gym.

Enjoying Yourself

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.

  • American Council on Exercise

    http://www.acefitness.org

  • The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports

    http://www.fitness.gov

  • Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute

    http://www.cflri.ca

  • Public Health Agency of Canada

    http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

  • Chapter 5: active older adults. US Department of Health and Human Services, Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/chapter5.aspx. Accessed February 3, 2014.

  • Frankel JL, Bean JB, Frontera WR. Exercise in the elderly: research and clinical practice. Clinics in Geriatr Med. 2006;22:239-56;vii.

  • McDermott A, Mernitz H. Exercise and older patients: prescribing guidelines. Am Fam Physician. 2006;74:437-44.

  • Older adult fitness. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/fitness-fact/9/older-adult-fitness. Accessed February 3, 2014.

  • Physical activity guidelines for Americans. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 9, 2013. Accessed February 3, 2014.