While regular physical activity is important for people of all ages, it has been shown that the benefits of regular exercise are the most important to the people who tend to exercise the least—people over 50, and even more so, people over 60.
There are numerous potential benefits of exercise, including:
- Increased stamina and energy
- Strong bones (and lower risk of osteoporosis)
- Improved muscle tone and strength
- Increased heart and lung efficiency
- Flexible joints, tendons and ligaments, which improve agility
- Improved digestive system
- Better balance (which helps to prevent falls)
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved self-esteem
- Less tension and stress
- Improved memory and alertness
In addition, regular exercise may prevent the onset of certain diseases and inhibit the effects of many chronic diseases of aging, including high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis.
Given these compelling reasons to exercise regularly, why don't more people over 50 do it? The excuses range from feeling too old, to having a specific medical condition, to not having enough time, to feeling out of place.
But the truth is that almost anyone of any age can participate in
type of physical activity, even including people with certain conditions.
Fortunately, beneficial results can be attained from as little as 30 minutes of exercise three or more times per week. Also encouraging for the 50 plus crowd is that many gyms, health clubs, swim clubs, walking clubs, YMCAs, and senior centers are offering more exercise programs geared toward their age group.
"Before starting any exercise program, anyone—regardless of age—should have a thorough physical and get the go-ahead from his physician," says Dr. Jacques Carter, MD, MPH, of Boston's Beth Israel/Deaconess Medical Center. He also notes that if you have a condition, your doctor will want to make recommendations about what exercise program will be most suitable for you, set any necessary limitations on that program, and monitor your progress.
Once you have approval from your doctor, what should you aim for? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends these exercise guidelines to gain health benefits:
- Throughout the week, aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (eg, walking briskly). In addition, do strength-training exercises to work the muscles in your legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, and arms. Strength training should be done two or more times per week.
- Or, aim for 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercises (eg, jogging, running) throughout the week. Also, do the the strength-training exercises.
- Or, do a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercises, along with strength training.
To gain even more health benefits, the CDC recommends these weekly goals:
- 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise along with two (or more) days of strength training
- Or, 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise and strength training
- Or, a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercises and strength-training
Remember that it is okay if you exercise for just 10 minutes at a time!
Include these exercises in your weekly routine:
Aerobic exercise is anything that causes an increase in the overall activity of your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs) for a sustained period. Over time, aerobic activity conditions your body in general, and your heart and lungs in particular, to be able to perform a greater amount of work with less effort.
Even minimal increases in aerobic activity can be beneficial, but try to reach the goals mentioned above. The best approach would be to try to exercise every day!
Factor in the following two elements:
- Find an aerobic activity you enjoy. This will help encourage you to stick with it!
- Try and find an aerobic activity that is low impact (that is, one that will not take a toll on your joints), such as brisk walking, swimming, or low-impact aerobics classes.
In addition to toning your body and making all movement less strenuous, strength training helps to support your joints, thus preventing arthritic problems and reducing the chance of injuries caused by falls.
There are a range of strengthening exercises that you can do. Some examples include using:
- Weight machines
- Free weights
- Medicine balls
- Resistance bands
Doing exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups, and lunges also build your muscles! Remember to start slowly with your new routine.
By strengthening your muscles, you will also get a "hidden" benefit. Aerobic exercise burns calories while you exercise, but weight training causes the body to burn calories 24 hours a day, even when you are at rest. This is because the body expends more energy to maintain muscle mass than to maintain fat mass.
Stretching exercises serve a number of purposes, including maintaining full motion in your joints, keeping muscles from shortening and tightening, preventing or lessening the effects of arthritis, and preventing injuries by increasing agility and mobility. A physical trainer can help you design a stretching regimen that you can do every day.
Experts recommend other tips to improve your exercise experience:
- Always wear comfortable clothing and athletic shoes that fit you well. In cold weather, wear layers of clothing and protect all parts of your body. In hot and humid weather, wear clothes that breath and drink plenty of liquids before and during exercise.
- Warm-up before you exercise.
- Allow your body to cool down after aerobic exercise. For example, walk for 5-10 minutes after your routine.
- Avoid exercising if:
- There is extremely cold, hot, or humid weather.
- You have an illness or injury.
- You have just eaten a heavy meal. Exercising after eating a lot of food may cause you to have an upset stomach.
Finally, if you experience any of the following symptoms during exercise, stop right away!
- Severe shortness of breath
- Coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing
- Pain, pressure, discomfort or tightness in the chest
- Dizziness, light-headedness, or fainting
- Extreme perspiration
- Severe pain, cramps or muscle aches
- Extreme, prolonged exhaustion or fatigue after exercising
If you think you have an emergency, CALL 911.