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 regular exercise can help.
Under normal conditions, fitness is simply a matter of "use it or lose it." This is even more true when you are older. Much of the frailty that accompanies old age is due to lack of use. But even at older ages using your muscles makes them stronger and more efficient. 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 control:
In addition, exercise can be beneficial for many conditions, like arthritis, diabetes, menopause, insomnia, depression, 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 slowly and build up to the recommendations listed below.
Stretching exercises are important for keeping your muscles flexible and strong and your joints with a good range of motion. You can do stretching exercises every day.
Examples of good stretching exercises 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, a few times per day 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 to increase flexibility and range of motion.
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
Activities to Help with Balance
Another way to reduce the risk of falls is to incorporate balancing exercises into your aerobic workouts. Some examples include:
- Walking backwards and sideways
- Walking on just your heels or toes
- Standing up from a sitting position
- Standing on one leg for a time, then the other while holding on to stable furniture or other support
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.
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. Remember that some exercise is better than no exercise.
American Council on Exercise
The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute
Public Health Agency of Canada
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 November 30, 2018.
Frankel JL, Bean JB, Frontera WR. Exercise in the elderly: research and clinical practice. Clinics in Geriatr Med. 2006;22(2):239-256.
McDermott A, Mernitz H. Exercise and older patients: prescribing guidelines. Am Fam Physician. 2006;74(3):437-444.
Older adult fitness. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: https://www.acefitness.org/acefit/fitness-fact/9/older-adult-fitness/. Accessed November 30, 2018.
Last reviewed October 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 11/30/2018