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Easing Seniors Back Into a Fitness Routine

Exercising regularly can help you keep healthy and feel your best as you age. In fact, studies show that being physically active is associated with a higher life expectancy. 

Though most people know the benefits of regular exercise, there are many reasons why we may become more sedentary with age. Between health concerns, pain issues, worries about falling or weight gain, it can feel difficult to incorporate regular exercise into your daily schedule. 

But as you grow older, regular exercise is more important than ever for both your physical and mental health. 

If you’re new to exercise or haven’t done it for a while and are not sure where to begin, we’ve got you covered. Here are some tips on how to ease back into a fitness routine as an older adult. 

Start Slowly 

If you haven’t exercised in a while (or ever), it’s important to gradually ease your way into a fitness routine to prevent injury and fatigue. 

Start off slowly by introducing different exercises into your daily routine. Making a commitment to get daily exercise doesn’t have to mean you go to the gym every day. Basic exercises that can be done around the house are a good place to start. 

Walking in a straight line heel-to-toe, squats, sitting up and standing from a chair, carrying light weights around the house, and going up and down the stairs are excellent at-home options for seniors. 

From there, you can increase the type of exercises you do and the amount of time you spend exercising. For example, if you take a slow stroll around the block for a few weeks, you may progress to hilly terrain or a longer, faster-paced walk over time. This can help your body get acclimated to exercise 

Build a balanced exercise program 

With a balanced exercise program, you will alternate days that you are doing aerobic and strength exercises. This ensures that you are working out different muscle groups each day to prevent injury and muscle fatigue. It also helps you make improvements to parts of the body including heart health, muscle mass, and balance. 

A balanced exercise program should include: 

  • Aerobics/cardiovascular exercises. Walking, swimming, cycling and even a light jog on the treadmill can help elevate your heart rate to improve cardiovascular health. 
  • Strength training. Be sure to start with light weights. You can work your way up to heavier weights as you build muscle and gain strength. 
  • Balance/flexibility. Yoga, pilates, and stretching can all help you improve your balance and flexibility. 

It can be intimidating to try new and different exercises, especially if you’re new to fitness or worried about injury. But the repetition of the same movements can lead to repetitive strain — wear and tear on the muscles and joints used most frequently. 

By changing up the exercises you do each day, you not only work out different parts of your body, but you prevent boredom. 

Reduce your couch time 

Loss of muscle mass occurs naturally as we get older. After the age of 36, we begin to lose muscle mass and by age 80, we lose nearly 50% of our natural muscle mass. Sitting for long periods of time can cause a further reduction in muscle mass. 

Whether you’re sitting on the couch watching television, relaxing in your favorite chair with a book, or working on a crafting project, be sure to take frequent breaks. Stand up and do some stretches, or take a quick walk around the house or neighborhood, for example. Moving around, stretching, and getting some physical activity after long periods of sitting can help prevent fatigue, improve your posture and balance, and prevent further muscle loss.

Set a schedule and goals

You may need to give yourself a little pep talk each day before exercising becomes a regular part of your daily routine. For maximum benefits, it’s important to dedicate approximately 30 minutes each day to be physically active. By adding dedicated time to exercising to your daily schedule, you signal to your brain that this is an important activity that is worth the time and effort it takes. 

It can be all too easy to start an exercise program only to stop a week or two later. Setting clearly defined exercise goals can help keep you motivated and measure your progress. Meeting goals can be motivational, so start off and focus on making realistic goals.  

Be sure that your goals are specific, measurable and attainable. While some people like to set goals related to their weight or clothing size, your goals don’t need to be related to your appearance. You could also set a goal on achieving a certain number of repetitions for a particular exercise, or a specific number of minutes. For example, you may set a goal to walk 2-miles without a break within 2 months or lift 15 pounds while doing 10 squats within 12 weeks. 

What motivates you? When you know your motivation, it can be easier to set goals that reflect that motivation. 

Takeaways 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that older adults get 150 minutes of exercise activity each week. While this may seem like a lot, you can break it up by exercising for 30 minutes/day, 5 days a week. On busier days, you can exercise for 10 minutes at a time, 3 times each day. 

Before you begin an exercise program, talk with your healthcare provider. Your doctor can give you the clearance (particularly if you have any health conditions) and offer advice on how to begin exercising safely. 

Whether you decide to join a gym, attend fitness classes (some are geared toward seniors!), or work out at home, the key is finding something you feel comfortable with and motivated to do. Engaging in different forms of exercise that work your cardiovascular system and build strength can improve your overall health and wellbeing

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