Fitness for Life

From the WebMD Archives

Get active. It's one of the best things you can do for yourself.

"Exercise is an antidote to aging," says Barry A. Franklin, PhD, director of the cardiac rehabilitation and exercise labs at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, MI.

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.

Aerobics

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.

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Strength Training

This isn't about becoming a body builder or professional weightlifter. Strength training -- also called resistance training -- can help you stay as independent as you want. Do it to keep your muscles and bones strong and help prevent falls and fractures. It can make things like getting around easier.

Strength training is just as important as aerobics, Franklin says. It's the principle of "use it or lose it."

What to do: Start with 2-pound hand weights. Even food cans or filled water bottles will work. Try doing exercises like getting up and down from a chair while holding the weights. Giving your muscles and bones something to work against builds their strength.

Do 8 to 10 different exercises at least 2 days a week. Work up to doing each exercise 10 to 15 times in a row. Use slightly heavier weights as you get stronger and the exercises become easy.

Give your muscles 2 days between sessions to rest. For example, if you do strength training on Monday, wait until Thursday until doing it again. Try aerobic or flexibility exercises on the other days.

Work your arms, chest, back, stomach, and legs. You can talk to a personal trainer or physical therapist to learn some moves.

Tip: Resistance bands are another good choice instead of weights. They are affordable, easy to carry, and come in different levels of resistance to make it easier or harder. You can even use these bands while sitting in a chair.

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Flexibility and Balance Exercises

Flexibility exercises stretch your muscles and keep them from stiffening up. That can help prevent injuries and joint problems.

Balance exercises can help keep you stable on your feet and prevent falls.

Yoga and tai chi are good for both. You can also learn balance exercises in fitness and senior center classes or from a personal trainer.

What to do: Do each type of exercise 20 minutes two or three times a week. You can do flexibility exercises as part of your warm-up and cool down from your aerobic workout.

You don't need to go anywhere to do these or schedule a special time. Fit balance exercises into your daily routine.

"You can do exercises like balancing on one foot almost anywhere -- while you're brushing your teeth, doing dishes, or folding the laundry," Rogers says.

Tip: It helps to have something like a counter or table to grab onto if you need it.

How to Keep It Safe

Although exercise is great for you, it's possible to overdo it.

You're working too hard if you exercise to the point of exhaustion or pain (not just tired legs or soreness). Stop exercise and call 911 if you:

WebMD Feature Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on September 21, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: "Seniors and Exercise."

American College of Sports Medicine: "ACSM Issues New Recommendations on Quantity and Quality of Exercise."

CDC: "How much physical activity do older adults need?"

Barry A. Franklin, PhD, FACSM, director, cardiac rehabilitation and exercise labs, Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, MI; professor of physiology, Wayne State University, Detroit.

Harvard Health Publications: "Exercise and Aging: Can you walk away from Father Time?"

Journal of the American Medical Association Patient Page: "Fitness for Older Adults."

Nied, R. American Family Physician, Feb. 1, 2002.

National Library of Medicine: "Exercise for Seniors."

Michael E. Rogers, PhD, FACSM, professor and chair, department of human performance studies; director, Center for Physical Activity and Aging; Wichita State University, Wichita, KS.

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