Exercising as You Age

By Sharon Lewis

Having been a competitive athlete in my younger days, I know the type of dedication and energy that goes into a rigorous training program. But the truth is that you do not need to go to that extreme to benefit from exercise. As we approach our golden years, the state of our physical health and wellbeing becomes a more significant concern. I do not know about you, but I want to travel and enjoy life when I can finally retire — not sit in a chair and wish I had taken better care of my body, so I could do the things I dreamed about doing. We can all attest that the activities that we did quickly in our youth are much more challenging, if not impossible to execute. Because there is no fountain of youth or pill to ingest, exercise becomes our greatest hope of maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle for as long as possible. Contrary to what you may have heard, it is never too late to start an exercise regimen.

The Harvard Medical School publication Harvard Health Publishing tells us that “research shows that many of the changes attributed to aging are caused in large part by disuse. Disuse is new information, but it confirms the wisdom of Dr. William Buchan, the 18th-century Scottish physician who wrote, “Of all the causes which conspire to render the life of a man short and miserable, none have greater influence then the want of proper exercise.”

To begin an exercise program after the age of 40, see your doctor for a physical check-up to rule out any underlying medical conditions or contraindications. Then seek out expert advice. Just because someone else is exercising does not mean that they are an expert or can help you craft your exercise routine. The first rule to follow is to start slow, especially if you have been sedentary for a while.

Beginning to exercise slowly will help you avoid injury. You can start by just moving more and sitting less. Pace yourself until you can do more. Here is what you need to know to start your exercise journey:

There are guidelines for how much exercise people need to maintain their health. Every healthy person should strive for a least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity and at least two days of muscle-strengthening training.

Let’s start with a definition of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Think about rating your level of movement or activity on a 10-point scale. Where zero is sitting still and 10 is working as hard as you can. The moderate-intensity aerobic activity would be 5-to-6 on that 10-point scale. The level of perceived exertion will be different for everyone and will change for you as you become fit. For example, the first few weeks of your program may be very challenging, and it isn’t easy to maintain more than a 3 or 4.

You may experience muscle soreness and fatigue. But as time goes by, you will experience less soreness and fatigue. These activities qualify as moderate-intensity aerobic activity:

• Walking or hiking
• Some forms of yoga
• Some yard work (raking and pushing a lawnmower)
• Dancing
• Bicycling (outdoor or stationary)
• Water aerobics
• Anything that gets the heart rate up

Then there is the muscle strengthening component of fitness. Muscle-strengthening exercises should be done at least two days per week, including lifting light to moderate weight. You do not need to lift heavy or look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Strengthening exercises keep you from losing muscle mass which accelerates each decade after your 30’s and using light to moderate weight prevents injury. Loss of muscle strength is one of the major reasons people fall and cannot get back up. So how do you know if you are doing enough strengthening exercises? You need to select an amount of weight that allows you to do 8-to-12 repetitions per activity or set. One set of 8-to-12 repetitions is good. For more benefits, work up to two or three sets.

Now you are asking why exercise? What is in it for you? Well, exercise has many benefits, For example:

• Exercise lowers blood pressure.
• Exercise is key to weight control.
• Exercise can help strengthen muscles and improves balance.
• Exercise can help you quit smoking.
• Exercise can stop or help slow the development of Diabetes – improves insulin sensitivity.
• Exercise lowers stress.
• Exercise reduces inflammation.
• Exercise helps decrease constipation.
• Exercise can improve the quality of your sleep.
• Exercise can improve memory and brain function in all age groups.
• Exercise reduces feelings of anxiety and depression.
• Exercise combats cancer-related fatigue.
• Exercise improves joint pain and stiffness.
• Most importantly, exercise increases lifespan.

That last benefit probably took you by surprise. But research verifies that people who exercise live longer. If you have exercised your entire life, you will derive the most benefits and the most significant life extension. However, suppose you are older and just starting to work out. In that case, you can still derive a percentage of the lifetime exerciser’s benefit. The goal is to put off the health declines associated with aging until the end of life.

For more information, visit:

Top 10 Benefits of Physical Activity https://www.choosept.com/resources/detail/top-10-benefits-of-physical-activity

7 Heart Benefits of Exercise. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/7-heart-benefits-of-exercise

How Much Physical Activity do Older Adults Need https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/older_adults/index.htm

Exercise and aging: Can you walk away from Father Time https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercise-and-aging-can-you-walk-away-from-father-time

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