As a physical therapist for 30 years, I have heard it all: from, ”I’m too tired to exercise” to “I’m too old to exercise” to “Exercise is for young people,” and more. These excuses are just that -- excuses.
The geriatric population continues to grow year-by-year and I find that a large portion of the elderly population are unaware of the significant benefits of regular exercise and its impact on healthy aging. Aging affects the body in many ways. For example: loss of strength, increase in body fat, loss of density in bones, loss of muscle mass, loss of agility, increase in joint injuries and a decrease in balance, endurance and cognition.
Many studies have confirmed the benefits of regular exercise performed into the latter years, some of which are increased balance and flexibility, lower blood pressure and increased endurance. Some studies even suggest routine exercise can increase a person’s lifespan by about five years. Regular exercise can help a person maintain a healthy weight and reduce the chance of developing diseases and disabilities. The Gerontological Society of America found in a study that fitness training led to significant increases in brain volume in people between 60 and 70 years old.
It is often difficult for sedentary individuals to initiate and maintain an exercise program. One of the primary reasons for that is because the individual takes on an exercise program that is too difficult – often leading the exerciser to become discouraged and stop exercising.
In order to avoid discouragement and cessation of an exercise program, it’s good to remember that when you start off initially, the routine should be very easy and light. Keep in mind that the most important initial goal is to create a positive routine that over time becomes more like a habit, or lifestyle. As someone who encourages exercise, I suggest trying a small increase in daily activity, with the goal of slow, incremental increases in movement. That carries with it the benefit of reduced risk of injury and leads to the creation of a workable routine, and eventually a long-term lifestyle change.
Also, don’t get discouraged if you don’t know how to start. There many ways older people can become more active. You can try aerobic exercise, swimming, tai-chi, weight training and yoga, which all are excellent options for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Engaging in these activities is not the only way to stay fit and healthy throughout the course of the day. There are many opportunities to keep active. Try these tips: when walking, walk faster; take the stairs instead of the elevator; start using a rake instead of the weed blower when doing yardwork or when baby-sitting the grandchildren, take them to the park rather than watching TV or playing video games.
Gyms in most towns have fitness trainers to assist you in tailoring an individualized exercise program that meets your needs. I recommend consulting with your primary care physician or physical therapist before initiating any vigorous or aggressive exercise program; you should ensure that you know about any exercises or activities you should avoid based on your personal health and/or existing health condition.
It is also critically important that you spend time formulating some long-term goals. Think about where you want to be in six months to a year or two down the road, to keep a vision in your mind of the benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle.
A healthier future is awaiting you. Begin now if you haven’t already. Living longer and healthier is a simple choice. Make the right choice!