This is the fourth installment of our “Be A Better You” series, which provides in-depth healthy living tips on the first Thursday of each month. This series will run through 2017. It’s like a New Year Resolution, but better!
Stronger muscles, better heart health, reduced risk of chronic conditions, improved cognitive function, a higher quality of life...the benefits of exercise go on and on. While we all know the importance of exercising on a regular basis, starting a new fitness training program can be daunting, especially for seniors.
Due to the prevalence of elderly fitness myths, many seniors believe that limiting their physical activity is the best way to prevent accidents, but the reality is that you are putting your health and safety at risk by not exercising. Despite what these myths have perpetuated, it’s never too late to reap the benefits of exercise -- you just need to do some preliminary work first.
To help you get started, we’ve put together a checklist of things to do before beginning a new exercise routine, as outlined by the National Institute on Aging.
Step One: Speak with your doctor.
Before you hit the gym, your doctor’s office should be your first stop. While many older adults don’t have any health conditions that would make a moderate fitness training program dangerous, speaking with your doctor is essential in order to ensure your safety. This is especially true if you’re just starting a new exercise routine, or if you tend to suffer from any of the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or pressure
- Blood clots
- Joint swelling
- Recent hip or back surgery
By discussing any symptoms with your physician, they can help you determine if there are specific exercises you should avoid due to illnesses or recent surgeries.
Step Two: Create exercise goals.
If you’re struggling to find the motivation to begin a new fitness training program, creating exercise goals will help. To get started, you’ll need to identify your current fitness level by creating an activity log that tracks how many hours you spend active and sedentary each week. If you’re tech savvy, you can also do this digitally by wearing a fitness tracker.
After identifying your baseline, you can create both short- and long-term exercise goals. These may seem interchangeable, but short-term goals help you make physical activity a part of your daily routine while long-term goals focus on your activity level in the future. For example:
- A short-term goal can be, “Tomorrow, I will decide to be more active”
- A short-term goal can also be,“By the end of this week, I will ask if my friend would like to exercise with me.”
- A long-term goal can be, “In six months, I will have my cholesterol under control by staying physically active and eating a healthy diet.”
- Another long-term goal can be, “By this time next year, I will swim a mile two times a week.”
Once you’ve created your personal exercise goals, write them down, keep them in a place where they are visible to you daily, and update them as you achieve each goal and become more physically active.
Step Three: Form a balanced fitness training program.
The key to creating a balanced fitness training program -- thereby ensuring that you reap the most benefits -- is incorporating all four types of exercises into your workout regimen:
- Aerobic: Exercises like jogging, swimming and biking increase your heart rate and breathing.
- Strength: Strengthening your muscles by lifting weights or using a resistance band will help you stay independent.
- Balance: Although falls are the leading cause of injury and death among seniors, doing balance exercises like Tai Chi will help you prevent falls.
- Flexibility: Exercises like yoga will help your body stay flexible and improve your ability to perform the other types of exercises.
Although 150 minutes of exercise a week is the recommended amount for seniors, don’t push yourself too hard if you haven’t been regularly active for an extended period of time. It may be best to start out exercising for just 5 to 10 minutes at a time, and gradually work your way up to exercising for 30 minute sessions, five days a week.
Step Four: Get the right equipment.
Unless you’re playing a sport, the only two things you’ll need are proper workout clothes and a good pair of shoes. When exercising, you should always wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing that doesn’t restrict your movements. Make sure your clothing isn’t too long or baggy, as it is more likely to catch on something and cause you to fall.
Finding a good pair of shoes may not seem important, but low-quality shoes can lead to heel and joint pain. Wearing shoes with flat, non-skid soles and good heel support will prevent injuries and help you stay on your feet.
Step Five: Safety first, always.
When it comes to ensuring your safety, all you need to do is remember the basics: don’t exercise for at least two hours after eating, drink plenty of water (before, during and after your exercise routine), and warm-up and cool-down with low-intensity exercises.
Should you experience any of the following symptoms while exercising, stop immediately and consult your doctor:
- Pressure in your chest, neck, shoulder or arm
- Cold sweat
- Muscle cramps
- Pain in joints, feet, ankles or legs
Step Six: Stay motivated.
After a few months, it’s not uncommon to experience boredom with your exercise routine and hitting a plateau when it comes to your exercise goals Luckily, there are simple things you can do to keep yourself motivated, such as:
- Keeping your exercise goals where you can see them as a reminder of what you want to achieve and why.
- If you’re questioning just how much of an impact your exercise routine is having on your overall health, consider investing in a wearable fitness tracker if you don't already. These devices do much more than count your steps -- some also track your heart health, sleep and calories burned.
- Ask a family member, friend or neighbor to work out with you a few times a week, or work with a personal trainer. Not only will they keep you motivated, but they’ll also help you avoid injuries and accidents.
The Role of Exercise in Healthy Aging
When it comes to healthy aging, exercise is essential in not only preventing age-related conditions, but also in maintaining your independence. Luckily, starting a new fitness training program doesn’t have to be intimidating. Once you make the commitment to exercise, follow the preliminary steps outlined above, in order to really reap the full benefits of exercise. In just a matter of time, you will start to see that a regular exercise routine will have a positive impact on every aspect of your life.