When Nancy Levitt's mother was first diagnosed with dementia 14 years ago at age 78, the doctor told her she could safely drive to familiar places. But Levitt, 61, who volunteers at UCLA's Center on Aging in Los Angeles, was still nervous. Unexplained nicks and dents started appearing on her mother's car. She forgot where she parked. Levitt tried to discuss driving safety with her mother, but she angrily denied there was a problem. Then, she would forget their talks about driving altogether.
A well-rounded routine, as part of a healthy lifestyle, may help you avoid things like falls, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Experts say many of the conditions people think are due to getting older have more to do with not moving enough.
At any age, these are the types of exercise you want to get:
Aerobic: good for your heart and lungs
Strength training: good for your muscles and bones
Flexibility and balance: helps prevent falls
Don't avoid exercise because you're afraid of getting hurt or think it's too late to start. It's a good idea to talk to your doctor for advice before starting a new exercise program.
If you have a condition like heart disease, osteoporosis, or arthritis, you may need to tweak your exercise routine a little to meet your needs, but it's worth it.
"The risks of exercising are far less than those of sitting on a couch," says Michael E. Rogers, PhD. He's director of the Center for Physical Activity and Aging at Wichita State University in Kansas.
Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and lungs. It's also good for your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, sleep, and memory.
What to do: You can walk briskly, jog, bike, swim, Zumba, walk in the water, or do any other activity that gets your heart rate up.
"If you're new to exercise, start with something low impact to see how your body responds," Rogers says.
Low impact means it doesn't put a lot of stress on your bones and joints. Swimming and cycling are good examples.
Whatever you do, start at a medium pace, where you move a little bit but can still hold a conversation. Aim for 30 minutes a day. You can build up to that, even if you start with just 5 minutes at a time. You can gradually make your workouts longer and more challenging.
Tip: A pedometer can help you track your steps and set goals. Challenge yourself to do a little more each week.