That old expression “if you don’t use it, you lose it” is true! Regular physical activity is an important part of aging well. Activity helps to prevent, delay or improve chronic disease. In fact, a recent report by the World Health Organization found that even brain health is improved and the risk of dementia decreased through regular exercise and other healthy habits.
Increased activity has a positive impact on your quality of life. It can improve your mood, decreasing feelings of depression, stress and anxiety. People who are active show a higher level of overall functional health. This includes lower fall risk, improved cognitive function as well as reduced risk of moderate to severe functional limitations.
Despite the benefits of exercise, however, 31 million adults age 50 or older are inactive, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), contributing to low energy, not feeling well, and worsening chronic health problems.
How can this be changed? Make a commitment to yourself – get moving at a level you can tolerate and realize the benefits of more regular physical activity. A total of 150 minutes of activity is recommended per week, and this can be broken down into small increments, spaced out over the entire week. Levels of activity should be adjusted for those individuals with disabilities.
Different Types of Exercise
Exercise consists of aerobic, strength, balance and flexibility:
- Aerobic exercise results in an increase in your breathing and heart rate, building energy and endurance.
- Strengthening exercise helps to build muscle
- Balance exercise decreases fall risk, which in turn prevents fractures.
- Flexibility exercises result in improved range of motion of joints and mobility.
Before any exercise, it is important to warm up and after activity, cool down. Start and end with a slower pace or lower intensity. This helps to prevent injury and muscle fatigue. The warm up and cool down time can be counted into your total activity time.
Walking is a great form of aerobic activity. You just need a good pair of tie shoes and a safe place to walk. Walking indoors at a mall or a store are good options. You can even walk around your house or use a stationary bike or a treadmill. Other examples of aerobic activity are dancing, swimming and aerobic classes in the pool or gym.
These activities should be part of your fitness routine at least twice a week. Include all of the major muscle groups:
Doing repetitions of the exercises facilitates muscle building. One set of 8 to 12 repetitions is beneficial, but if you are able to do two to three sets, that is even more effective.
Examples of muscle strengthening activities include exercises using bands, weight machines and hand-held weights. Callisthenic exercise such as jumping jacks, sit ups, push-ups are all good options. Gardening and carrying groceries even count as aerobic exercise as well as some forms of yoga and tai chi.
Working on balance is very important for the older adult, especially for those at higher risk for falling. Balance training is recommended at least three days a week. Some examples of exercise for this include: walking backward and sideways, heel/toe walking as well as getting up out of a stationary chair.
Stretching exercises are an integral part of physical fitness, and needed to participate in other forms of activity. Stretching exercises should include the neck, shoulders/arms, chest, back, thighs, hamstrings and calves. Restorative Yoga classes can help to increase flexibility, as well as heal from injuries.
Incentives to Exercise!
Good news for Seniors! Many Medicare plans offer incentives to keep fit, including Silver Sneakers and other similar programs that pay for gym memberships and classes! Check with your Part B provider or your Medicare Advantage Plan to see what is covered.
It may take some effort to get moving, but you’ll be glad you did. Any increase in your level of activity will be beneficial for you physically and mentally. Remember to check with your healthcare provider before embarking on a new level of activity. They can help to guide you on your journey to better health.
Article by Elizabeth Allen, Nurse Practitioner, AgeWell Medical Associates