According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), exercise and physical activity are some of the best things older adults can do to stay healthy. Even moderate exercise can improve the health of those who are frail or who have age-related diseases.
Some seniors are concerned that physical activity or exercise may be too strenuous or may do them more harm than good. In fact, it’s an inactive lifestyle that proves to do more harm than exercise does.
Without physical activity, older people tend to grow weaker in four areas important for staying healthy and independent: strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance. The NIH maintains that:
• Increasing strength and endurance make it easier to climb stairs and carry groceries.
• Improving balance helps prevent falls.
• Being more flexible may speed recovery from injuries.
Exercising regularly can also have a positive impact on the immune system, blood pressure, cardiovascular system and it can decrease the risk of heart disease and help with depression or anxiety.
The American Senior Fitness Association has some recommendations for those wanting to start a fitness program.
• Get medical clearance to exercise.
• Don’t exercise if you are injured, sick, or running a temperature.
• Always warm up and always cool down.
• Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.
• Avoid heavy meals for about two hours before energetic exercise.
• If fatigue and/or discomfort last longer than one or two hours after exercising, cut back the next day but don’t stop completely. Comfort ranges can change daily, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t do the same amount of exercise as you did the day before.
• Concentrate on exercises that improve and maintain your range of motion, lubricate the joints and keep muscles flexible. Everyday activities will be easier to carry out and you’ll have less pain, too.
Stop exercise and consult your physician immediately if you experience any of the following:
• chest pain or tightness in the chest, neck or throat
• considerable difficulty breathing
• abnormal heart rhythm; nausea’ dizziness, light headedness, or visual interruption
• excessive cold sweat
• extreme or lasting weakness or fatigue
For a good, overall exercise program, consider tai chi. Tai chi is a self-paced system of gentle physical exercise. It involves standing and performing a series of movements in a slow, graceful way. Each movement smoothly flows into the next. Studies suggest that tai chi may improve balance and knee joint stability, both of which help balance.
Staying active does the body and the mind a world of good. Find exercise and activities that you enjoy and you’ll be able to stick with it and improve your quality of life.