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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Getting Fit For Life

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Four Types of Exercise continued...

Two-Keep using your muscles. When muscles aren't used, they waste away at any age.

How important is it to have "enough" muscle? Very! When you have enough muscle, you can get up from a chair by yourself. When you don't-you have to wait for someone to help you. When you have enough muscle, you can walk through the park with your grandchildren. When you don't-you have to stay home. That's true for younger adults as well as for people age 90 and older.

Keeping your muscles in shape can help prevent another serious problem in older people-falls that cause problems like broken hips. When the leg and hip muscles that support you are strong, you're less likely to fall. Even if you do fall, you will be more likely to be able to get up on your own. And using your muscles may make your bones stronger, too.

Three-Do things to help your balance. For example, stand on one foot, then the other. If you can, don't hold on to anything for support. Stand up from sitting in a chair without using your hands or arms. Every now and then walk heel-to-toe. When you walk this way, the toes of the foot in back should almost touch the heel of the foot in front.

Four-Stretch. Stretching can help keep you flexible. You will be able to move more freely. Stretch when your muscles are warmed up. Never stretch so far that it hurts.

Who Should Exercise?

Almost anyone, at any age, can improve his or her health by doing some type of activity. But, check with your doctor first if you plan to do strenuous activity (the kind that makes you breathe hard and sweat) and you are a man over 40 or a woman over 50. Your doctor might be able to give you a go-ahead over the phone, or he or she might ask you to come in for a visit.

You can still exercise even if you have a long-term condition like heart disease or diabetes. In fact, physical activity may help your illness, but only if it's done during times when your condition is under control. During flare-ups, exercise could be harmful. If you have any of the following problems, it's important to check with your doctor before starting an exercise program:

  • a chronic disease, or a high risk of getting one-for example, if you smoke, if you are obese, or if you have a family history of a long-term disease

  • any new symptom you haven't talked about with your doctor

  • chest pain

  • shortness of breath

  • the feeling that your heart is skipping, racing, or fluttering

  • blood clots

  • infections or fever

  • unplanned weight loss

  • foot or ankle sores that won't heal

  • joint swelling

  • pain or trouble walking after you've fallen

  • a bleeding or detached retina, eye surgery, or laser treatment

  • a hernia

  • hip surgery

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