No one can stop the march of time or halt the aging process, but an enjoyable exercise routine is one way to slow it down. Regular exercise, daily if possible, is the single most important factor in maintaining good health, even as you age. Actually, that should be especially as you age! Many signs of ‘aging’ are really the symptoms of disuse.
Some people think of exercise only as a form of drudgery endured in a gym. In fact, many people enjoy going to a gym and exercising, if for no other reason than it gives them a chance to socialize. But that does not have to be the case. With or without a gymnasium or formal setting, exercise can be a tremendously enjoyable part of your daily life. If you enjoy some form of exercise activity, you are more likely to stick with it and enjoy the benefits.
Most people in reasonably good health can find some form of exercise that is both beneficial and enjoyable. This does not have to be brisk walking or running a mile or two. If you like gardening, tending your own “farm” will keep you moving, bending, stretching and carrying things heavier than you would normally pick up. These are serious physical activities and, for an avid gardener, there is something to do every day. All of these functions – moving, bending, stretching, etc. help maintain important abilities as you age, and they may get you a ‘free’ salad.
If gardening does not suit your tastes, find an activity that does. Besides the physical benefits, there are several good reasons for doing this. First, any planned, routine activity puts structure into your daily life. This helps keep you from sinking into a habit of inactivity, a sure way to speed aging. Second, many forms of physical activity or exercise have a ‘socializing’ element. Going to a gym keeps a person in contact with familiar people preventing social isolation, another danger sign during aging. Lastly, exercise should be a source of recreation and fun.
Sometimes seniors think that the exercise activities available to them are restricted by muscle, bone or joint limitations. In reality, there are many low-impact forms of exercise that limit the risk of injury while providing a fun workout. Experts say that there are 3 keys to a good workout for seniors –
- Low impact cardiovascular training for the heart and circulatory system;
- Resistance training to build and maintain muscle strength;
- Stretching to maintain mobility and balance.
Use your imagination, open yourself to new ideas and look for some fun! Dancing and yoga have never been on the “to do” list for a lot of people. Both of these activities provide exercise and other positive benefits for seniors without a lot of stress or pounding. Both activities can help to improve a person’s posture, endurance and balance. Yoga poses can aid in keeping joints flexible and improve mobility. Likewise, dancing can help to maintain balance and mobility while providing cardiovascular exercise.
Swimming is good exercise at any age but it may be especially useful for seniors. It is an excellent low-impact cardiovascular exercise, tones muscles and strengthens important muscle groups. Organizations like the YMCA or local Senior Centers often have aquatic facilities and offer classes in water exercises like ‘water jogging’ or ‘water aerobics’. These classes also bring together people of similar age and interests, so there is the side benefit of maintaining social contact.
Bicycling is another low-impact and low-cost source of exercise that provides cardiovascular and muscle training while helping to improve balance. Loss of balance, mobility and muscle strength are some of the ‘aging’ symptoms that you can avoid, or slow, by exercising. If you live in a community that has bike trails or other safe riding environments, cycling may be a very good choice.
If you have ever enjoyed golf, by all means continue to do so. It gets you out-of-doors and helps you keep in contact with old friends. However, you may want to consider finding a facility that allows you to walk the course. A regulation 18-hole golf course should be between 6,200 and 7,000 yards; meaning that if you walk nine holes, you have probably covered two or more miles while having fun. Use a pedometer or the GPS app on your phone to get an accurate idea of how much walking you have actually done.
This brings us to the simplest, easiest and most cost effective form of exercise: walking. According to the American Council on Exercise, walking at least 30 minutes a day can lower your blood pressure, increase stamina and energy levels, help control weight and strengthen bones. And, it is free!
Walking does not have to be boring. There are several ways to combine walking with other activities. Your telephone or MP3 player can enable you to listen to an audio book as you walk. If you can maintain a pace of 2 miles per hour and listen to a 10-hour long audio book, you will have ‘listened’ to 20 miles. Doing so for 40 weeks a year will cover 800 miles, about the distance from New York City to Savannah, Georgia. This should use about 80,000 calories, equivalent to roughly 22 pounds of body weight.
If you would rather do your walking in an air conditioned house, consider a treadmill. Placing the treadmill near a TV or computer monitor opens countless possibilities. If you binge-watched a season of “Game of Thrones” while walking at 2 miles per hour, you would have ‘watched’ about 20 miles go by. This is probably not as good for you as getting outside and walking with a friend, but it is far better than viewing from a couch.
The lesson is obvious – most people can find some exercise or physical activity that is both healthy and fun. This becomes more important as you age, so start now to look for some form of physical activity that you can do on a regular basis. Our goal at FindingAssistedLiving.com is to provide resources and information that can assist our Elderly, family members and keep everyone abreast of the latest in resources.
Contributed by Dr. Christian Birkedal