Never Too Old to Get Fit
It can be difficult
for older adults to begin new exercise programs. Often, they fear
injury or are alienated by youth-oriented gyms and fitness centers.
But exercising can be the single most important thing adults of
any age can do to improve their health.
To help older adults get motivated about physical activity, the
National Institute on Aging has published a free 100-page exercise
guide that gives concrete examples of exercises that improve endurance,
strength, balance and flexibility. It also provides activity and
progress charts as well as nutrition information.
Aerobics for Seniors
Vigorous aerobic exercise may be the best way for seniors to promote
overall health and reduce their risk of heart disease according
to a study published in the March 2000 issue of the Journal of Clinical
Endocrinology and Metabolism. The 53 men and 63 women participants,
ages 59 to 77, each engaged in aerobic workouts on stationary bikes
for a period of 10 days as researchers gauged their calorie expenditure.
Researchers also examined the participants' body compositions and
diets once every three days. The men and women were then broken
up into groups according to high and low aerobic capacity and high
and low calorie burning. The seniors who engaged in the highest
levels of physical exertion increased their body's ability to transport
and use oxygen, were leaner, and showed significantly lower LDL
("bad") cholesterol and insulin levels. These indicators are strongly
linked to heart disease. The researchers believe that aerobically
fit seniors are at less risk for heart disease compared with older
adults who participate in frequent, moderate activity.
A healthy lifestyle is a good choice at any age. Whether you are
seven or 70, you can participate in physical activity, and get results.
However, as you grow older, factors such as arthritis, decreased
aerobic capacity, and high blood pressure may limit your choices
in exercise. But, you can modify your workouts. Before you attempt
to run the Boston marathon, take up beach volleyball or start any
new physical activity, check with your physician. There are risks
factors to consider, including:
such as back problems, osteoporosis, low blood pressure, and lung
diseases may mean that your exercise program requires modification.
For seniors, there are some basics to help get you started. First,
you have to know what constitutes a well-rounded fitness program.
Then you have to know what constitutes enough exercise to maintain
history of heart disease.
A balanced exercise program at any age will consist of at least
three types of activity -- cardiovascular exercise, resistance exercise,
and stretching. Cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise,
works your heart and uses repetitive motion. Cycling, walking, cross-country
skiing, and swimming are examples of this exercise form that uses
large muscle groups to raise the heart rate.
Resistance exercise utilizes specific muscle groups and is done
for muscular strength and endurance. It can be done using either
external weights such as biceps curls with dumbbells or your own
body weight and muscular resistance such as push-ups.
Meanwhile, stretching elongates the muscles and helps to improve
joint mobility and decrease the risk of injury.
These three elements can be combined in one workout session or done
separately. Other points for a proper fitness routine include, the
warm-up and the cool-down. With age, you may find that the period
for warm-ups and cool-downs needs to be lengthened. These two stages
ease your body into a transition from either rest-to-exercise or
any exercise program to be successful, certain minimums have to
be achieved. These minimums apply to the frequency of exercise,
the duration, and the intensity. For seniors, exercise sessions
should occur at least five times per week. It is helpful if physical
activity becomes a part of your daily routine. For cardiovascular
exercise, the session should last between 20 and 60 minutes depending
on the intensity. However, if the individual's constitution is weak,
the sessions could be as short as 10 minutes, with repetitions two
or three times during the day.
Intensity of exercise or how hard you work can be determined by
your training heart rate. The simplest method uses the following
formula: 220 - age x .7 (for lower limit) and .85 (for upper limit).
For example, if you are 70 years old, your lower limit would be
(220-70) x .7 = 105 beats per minute and your upper limit would
be (220-70) x .85 = 128 beats per minute. These numbers are just
rough guidelines. Listen to your own body first.
seniors participate in a variety of activities. However, if you
are a beginner leave rock climbing or snowboarding for later. Walking
is always a good bet. It is inexpensive, can be done at anytime
and at your own pace. Swimming is great because it is easy on your
joints. The same goes for water aerobics. Weight lifting can give
your muscles a boost at any age, as can good old-fashioned calisthenics.
If you are interested in more high-tech stuff, a number of cardio
machines at your local gym provide good workouts with low joint
stress and support. These machines include recumbent cycles and
cardio squat machines. If you are no longer working, you may finally
have the time to try Yoga or Tai Chi.
to Go/What to Do
a senior, if you are new to the exercise scene, you may wish to
join a gym. The staff can help create your own personal workout
program. You can participate in classes or work out alone. Many
gyms offer a wide variety of programming, but you should check beforehand
to see what they offer for seniors. Some clubs have seniors fitness
classes, others do not. You can still participate in other classes,
but you may just have to modify some of the moves. Talk to the class
instructor for some tips.
Another option is to hire a personal trainer to come into your home
and set up a program using the space and equipment that you have
at hand. This approach is good in the beginning if you need some
help with motivation. Starting an exercise program is easy. Sticking
with it requires effort.
Some seniors' groups have walking programs (e.g. Mall Walkers) and
other outings (e.g. ballroom dances is making a comeback!). You
can socialize, enjoy the company of friends, and get in shape, all
at the same time.
As a senior, one of the easiest and most inexpensive
forms of exercise is walking. Not only is it a great aerobic workout,
but walking is tremendously beneficial in strengthening the bones,
joints and muscles of your legs. Here are some tips to get the most
benefit from your walking:
- A brisk walk
is brisk enough to deepen your breathing comfortably and increase
your heart rate.
- Focus on
a tall posture, head up with shoulders back and abdomen in.
- Land on the
heel of your foot. Roll forward onto the ball of your foot, then
push off from your toes.
- Take even,
- Allow your
arms to swing freely and rhythmically.
- Be sensitive
to your breathing! Take full breaths and exhale completely.
Below is a sample
walking program that you can use as a guide. Proceed at your own
level of fitness. If you feel uncomfortable or tired at one level,
stay at that level or move to a lower level until you feel ready
a minimum five-minute warm-up and end with a 5-10 minute cool-down.
Choose at least three strengthening and three flexibility exercises.
Vary these to achieve greater benefit.
use good posture and walking technique, proper breathing, and warm-up/cool-down
Work up to:
at an increased heart rate that is comfortable
at an elevated heart-rate for 15 minutes at a time
at least three times a week
(3 x week)