Have you given up on exercise? A lot of older people do -- just one out of four people between the ages of 65 and 74 exercises regularly. Many people assume that they're too out-of-shape, or sick, or tired, or just plain old to exercise. They're wrong.
"Exercise is almost always good for people of any age," says Chhanda Dutta, PhD, chief of the Clinical Gerontology Branch at the National Institute on Aging. Exercise can help make you stronger, prevent bone loss, improve balance and coordination, lift your mood, boost your memory, and ease the symptoms of many chronic conditions.
Here are some common myths that stop older people from exercising -- along with some expert advice to get you started working out.
Exercise Myth: Trying to exercise and get healthy is pointless -- decline in old age is inevitable.
"There's a powerful myth that getting older means getting decrepit," says Dutta. "It's not true. Some people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s are out there running marathons and becoming body-builders." A lot of the symptoms that we associate with old age -- such as weakness and loss of balance -- are actually symptoms of inactivity, not age, says Alicia I. Arbaje, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Geriatrics and Gerontology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Exercise improves more than your physical health. It can also boost memory and help prevent dementia. And it can help you maintain your independence and your way of life. If you stay strong and agile as you age, you'll be more able to keep doing the things you enjoy and less likely to need help.
Exercise Myth: Exercise isn't safe for someone my age -- I don't want to fall and break a hip.
In fact, studies show that exercise can reduce your chances of a fall, says Dutta. Exercise builds strength, balance, and agility. Exercises like tai chi may be especially helpful in improving balance. Worried about osteoporosis and weak bones? One of the best ways to strengthen them is with regular exercise.
Exercise Myth: Since I'm older, I need to check with my doctor before I exercise.
If you have a medical condition or any unexplained symptoms or you haven't had a physical in a long time, check with your doctor before you start exercising. Otherwise, go ahead. "People don't need to check with a doctor before they exercise just because they're older," says Dutta. Just go slowly and don't overdo it.
Exercise Myth: I'm sick, so I shouldn't exercise.
On the contrary, if you have a chronic health problem -- such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease -- exercise is almost certainly a good idea. Check with a doctor first, but exercise will probably help.
"Exercise is almost like a silver bullet for lots of health problems," says Arbaje. "For many people, exercise can do as much if not more good than the 5 to 10 medications they take every day."