Feeling Fit For Life - The Importance Of Exercise As We Age
When older people lose their ability to do things on their own, it doesn't usually happen just because they have aged. More likely, it is because they have become inactive. As we age, exercise can play an important part in our ability to maintain our endurance, strength, balance and flexibility.
It is important to note that exercise is not just for independent older adults in the younger age range. Research shows that exercise and physical activity can improve the health of people who are age 90 or older and those who suffer from diseases that seem to accompany aging. Staying physically active and exercising regularly can help prevent or delay the onset of many age related health conditions. In other cases, exercise can benefit those who already have age-related health conditions and disabilities.
Exercise includes everyday physical activities such as walking briskly or gardening and can have a big impact on our health as we grow older. Making just a few small changes in your daily routine could make all the difference.
Find Out What Works For You
There is no exercise plan that is right for everyone. Everybody has to find his or her own way to exercise. According to the U.S. Surgeon General's report, you are more likely to keep doing physical activities if you:
- Believe that you will benefit from doing the activities
- Include activities you enjoy
- Feel you can do the activities correctly and safely
- Can fit the activities into your daily schedule
- Feel that the activities don't impose financial or social costs you aren't willing to take on
- Have few negative consequences from doing your activities (such as injury or lost time)
Set yourself up to succeed right from the start. Place safety first and choose realistic goals. Also, don't forget to track your progress and reward yourself for your efforts!
Where To Begin
It's important to start at a level you can manage and work your way up gradually. Research shows that you don't have to do strenuous exercises to gain health benefits-moderate exercises are very effective. The benefits of exercise and physical activity come from making them a permanent habit. Start with one or two types of exercises that you know you can manage and that fit into your schedule.
As a rule, older people should stay as physically active as they can. However, there are some conditions that prohibit exercise and you should consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
Moderate Activity Delivers Results
Once again, it is not necessary to engage in vigorous exercise to improve your health-a moderate level of sustained activity can be extremely beneficial. Here are some examples of moderate activities that can help maintain and improve your endurance, strength, balance and flexibility.
Endurance exercises increase your breathing and heart rate. They may help you maintain or improve the health of your heart, lungs and circulatory system. Climbing stairs and grocery shopping are examples or physical activities that build endurance.
As people age, they generally lose 20% - 40% of their muscle (and strength), primarily because they stop doing everyday activities that use muscle power. Building and maintaining strength can be as simple as doing physical activities that you enjoy and continuing to do physical tasks around the house.
Even very small changes in muscle size can make a big difference in strength. An increase that is not even visible to the eye may improve a person's ability to do things like get up from a chair or climb stairs. Strength exercises also increase your metabolism, helping to keep your weight and blood sugar in check and lowering the risk of developing serious health problems such as diabetes. Again, it is important not to do too much - doing strength exercises too often can cause more problems than good.
Exercises designed to improve or maintain balance can help prevent older adults from falling. Falling is a major cause of broken hips and other injuries that often lead to disability and loss of independence. Steadying yourself by holding on to a table and standing on one foot is one example of physical action that can help maintain or improve balance. Standing up from sitting in a chair without using your hands or arms is another.
Stretching helps keep the body limber and may also play an important part in preventing falls. Just as with endurance, strength and balance exercises, it is important not to try to do too much. Even when attempting basic stretches, you should slowly stretch into the desired position, as far as possible without pain, and hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Relax, then repeat, trying to stretch farther.
Don't Delay, Start Today
Many seniors avoid beginning an exercise program because they don't think they have the time or money. Others think that exercise programs are only for younger people.
The truth of the matter is that the majority of older adults can safely do some form of physical activity at little or no cost, and that activity does not need to consume a lot of their time to be effective. It is also not necessary to exercise in a public place or to use expensive equipment. How you approach everyday activities such as household chores can even improve your health.
Before starting any exercise program, please contact your physician.
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