Fitness First: It’s Never Too Late

Krista Howell
By Krista Howell June 15, 2008 08:00

Think you’re too old or out of shape to start exercising? The truth is, it’s never too late. You only need two things to get started: realistic goals and a willing attitude.

Before we discuss goals and a can-do approach, let’s talk about why exercise matters. Studies have proven that even the lightest exercise routine can significantly improve your health in so many ways. The benefits are:

Physiological – Exercise helps lower blood pressure, regulate blood glucose, raise HDL cholesterol, lower triglycerides, decrease artery inflammation, increase physical endurance, increase muscular strength and reduce risk of disease, including cancer and heart disease.

Emotional – Improves overall wellness, decreases stress, eases depression, boosts personal confidence.

Physical – Helps with weight loss or gain, helps us to live more independently, have more energy and better skin, circulation, balance and flexibility. Exercise also reduces  pain associated with orthopedic problems, arthritis or fibromyalgia.

Knowing all this, it’s clear that people in their 50s, 60s and older can enjoy better health  and continue an independent lifestyle longer by exercising regularly. That doesn’t mean exercising to the point of exhaustion. Moderation is a much better approach. You can benefit from just 30 minutes of cardio exercise (walking, stationary bike, etc.) whether it’s done continuously or broken up into three 10-minute segments exercise.

Finding exercises that fit into your lifestyle won’t be difficult, but sticking with them is always a challenge. That makes setting goals especially important. Here are some tips:

  • First, examine what you want to accomplish, whether it’s to lose weight, increase your endurance, build muscle, gain flexibility, improve your balance or reduce your risk of heart disease.
  • Evaluate what you truly believe you can stick to, and be patient – establishing a routine can take awhile. Studies indicate it takes 30 days to build a new habit.
  • Before starting, of course, always check with your doctor. On the other hand, don’t make the excuse that you can’t exercise because you can’t get an appointment! Unless you have health problems, don’t put it off. Just start off slow and easy, with the “Level One” routine I’ve outlined here.

One last thing before you start your workout. Let’s review the Fab Four – the four best exercises for older adults:

  1. Endurance exercises include walking, riding a stationary bike, or any activity that increases your heart rate and breathing for an extended period of time.
  2. Balance exercises build leg muscles to prevent falls (see “Balancing Act”).
  3. Stretching exercises give you more freedom of movement.
  4. Strength exercises help you maintain muscle, aiding with strength and balance.

    Build your endurance gradually, starting with as little as five minutes of activity at a time. Remember, your personal goal might be to hike four miles – or it might be to just walk through the store and not be out of breath!

    If you’ve never exercised before, consider joining a class. That helps you to consistently exercise, and has added social benefits. Or invite a friend to exercise with you, which helps you both stay committed.

    Whatever your choice, get started! And remember, this is a contest in which the tortoise always beats the hare. In the race for senior fitness, slow and steady wins every time.

    Krista’s Get-Started Program

    These exercises work for all beginning exercisers, whether you’re 55 or 105. Your starting level is based on your endurance today. Once you get started, it won’t take long to move to the next level.

    Level 1

    Very low endurance; a person who has never exercised or has physical problems that limit ability to exercise

    • Walk five minutes
    • Balances exercises, five minutes
    • Walk five minutes

    Add 1 minute each day to walk times until each walking segment is 12 minutes

    Level 2

    Low endurance, the person who has started to exercise but can’t quite get committed to a program

    • Walk 10 minutes
    • Balance/strength exercises, 10 minutes
    • Walk 10 minutes

    Add 2 minutes each day to walk times until each walking segment is 30 minutes

    Level 3

    Moderate endurance, the person with no physical limitations who doesn’t regularly exercise

    • Walk 30 minutes
    • Balance/strength exercises, 20 minutes
    • Stretching exercises, 10 minutes

    This is a great accomplishment to reach this level!

    Balancing Act: Four Exercises

    Before you begin, position yourself where you can grab something for balance, maybe a chair, counter or deck rail, if needed.

    Toe Raise

    • Standing straight, slowly stand on tiptoes and hold position
    • Slowly lower heels all the way back down
    • Repeat 8-15 times

    Heel-Toe Walk

    Position your heel just in front of toes of the opposite foot each time you take a step.

    Try 4 steps forward, then 4 steps backward – if you accomplish this, close your eyes and do it five more times

    Flamingo

    Stand on one foot, count to five, and repeat five times; then do the same on other foot

    Stand and Sit

    Sit in a chair, then stand up 10 times without using your hands

    © 2008, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

    Krista Howell
    By Krista Howell June 15, 2008 08:00
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