If your exercise program is a success, you'll improve your odds of staying out of a nursing home. Even moderate exercise can reverse the effects of aging if you do it consistently. But, most people find it hard to do. Here are some tips for success.
Starting your fitness program ...
Before starting, consult with your doctor, especially if you are being treated for a medical condition or injury. For example, if you have low bone density, you should avoid sit-ups and crunches (partial sit-ups); your doctor can suggest safe alternatives.
If you've never exercised, start with something easy, like walking or gardening. There's a low risk of injury and it doesn't cause a lot of muscle soreness, which may discourage you from doing it again. Then, gradually increase to more vigorous activities (with your physician's approval) such as biking, jogging, rowing, aerobic dancing, or swimming.
Work exercise into your daily routine. Use the stairs instead of the elevator, park at the far end of the parking lot so you have a longer walk to the mall, take your dog for walks.
For best results, your goal should be at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, 6 days a week. But, for the first few months, start out with shorter times only 3 to 4 days a week and gradually work up your goal.
Work on consistency and length of time; don't worry about pushing the intensity.
Don't lift weights for the first time without instruction from a knowledgeable trainer.
Doing your exercises ...
Wear loose, comfortable clothing that is well suited to the activity.
Choose activities you enjoy and you will be more likely to continue your program; consistency is important. Don't sign up for an aerobics class if you hate aerobics. The best exercises? The ones you'll do on a regular basis.
Exercise with a friend or in a class to help keep you motivated. If you exercise alone, listen to a recorded book or music to reduce boredom. Cross-training also reduces boredom and works different muscle groups.
Warm up with light exercises such as marching in place, rolling your shoulders, and swinging your arms for several minutes.
Don't do 30 minutes of exercise all at once if you can't or don't want to. For example: do it in 10-minute sessions, three times a day.
Set goals and track your activity, so you can evaluate your progress and see what you've accomplished.
Taking care of your body ...
Pay attention to your body; physical activity should not produce pain or burning in your muscles; if this occurs, slow down the pace.
Stop exercising when overheated; otherwise, you risk heat stroke.
Drink plenty of liquids when performing endurance activities that make you perspire (older people tend to become dehydrated easily).
When you finish each exercise session, walk for a few minutes, or keep doing your last aerobic exercise, but very slowly, to cool down.
Now for the bad news warm-ups, cool-downs and stretching don't count as part of your 30 minutes of exercise but you'll feel much better after you do them and they help prevent injury.
Many people say they would exercise if they could just find the time. But, to gain the benefits of exercise, make it your top priority, then try to find the time to do everything else. Remember, if you aren't physically active, eventually you won't be able to do many of the things you want to do.
But, if you miss a day or so, don't make a big deal of it. Relax and enjoy your day (days) off. In fact, some people recommend taking a week-long vacation from your exercises every 6 months or so. Reward yourself with some well-deserved time off for a job well-done.
For more information about senior exercises, an excellent online "booklet" has been prepared by the National Institute on Aging and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The booklet includes a drawing (some are animated) for each exercise showing how to do it properly. To go to the booklet, click on Senior Exercises.