If you’re over 40, have you wondered just how much exercise you should be getting? After all, you’re not as young as you used to be, and maybe some of those activities you did when you were younger aren’t so easy anymore. Could that be your body’s way of telling you that you need to slow down a bit? When you start to think along those lines, it almost makes you feel like you’re treating your body better if you take it easy a little bit. That line of thinking is flawed. In truth, the less active you are, the more your body stops working as it should.
As you get older your body does change, and I can attest to that. However, it’s easy to make simple accommodations in your exercise regime that are appropriate for your age and physical condition. For example, years of running took its toll on my knees, and I have switched to biking, swimming, and power walking. I still get a great workout, but I am doing exercise that works with my body and not against it. What are your limitations? Can you think of activities you can do even with those limitations? Are you willing to be creative with exercise for the sake of investing in your upcoming years, thereby insuring they will be healthy and productive?
For the most part, when older people lose their ability to do things, it doesn’t happen just because they’ve aged. More likely it is because they are inactive. Older inactive individuals lose ground in four areas that are important for staying healthy and independent: aerobic conditioning, strength, balance, and flexibility. The good news is that research suggests that you can maintain, or at least partly restore, these four areas through exercise. Brisk walking and gardening can even accomplish some of the same goals as exercise. What may seem like very small changes in physical activity can have a huge impact.
Remember to include all four types of exercise to gain the most benefit:
Aerobic exercises increase your breathing and heart rate, thereby strengthening your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. The Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health recommends that for health benefits people of all ages should engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking) on most, if not all, days of the week (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). This activity can be a single 30-minute exercise session or multiple short bouts of at least 10 minute sessions.
Strength exercises build strong muscles and bones, and may help prevent or slow osteoporosis. Start with lighter weights and work up to heavier weights and more repetitions or sets of repetitions. I recommend one exercise for every major muscle in the body while doing two sets of 10-15 repetitions. Once you are able to do 15 repetitions with a weight easily, increase the weight so that your muscle is totally fatigued by 10-12 repetitions. You don’t need to strength-train more than three days per week; and always wait at least 48 hours before exercising the same muscle group to give those muscles enough time to recover and grow stronger.
Balance exercises help you feel steadier and prevent future falls. Balance exercises also build up leg muscles and increase body-mind awareness which may prevent injuries. Balancing can be as simple as standing on one leg for 30 seconds two times a day, or more involved such as purchasing an exercise ball to do with your strength exercises.
Flexibility exercises also help prevent injuries from happening in the first place, or help injuries recover. Stretch slowly and breathe deeply. Hold stretches for 20 seconds or more, and preferably after you’ve warmed your muscles up first.
Growing older does not mean you have to lose your strength and ability to do the things you did when you were younger. But an inactive lifestyle does mean that you will lose some of your strength and agility. Are you part of the more than two-thirds of older adults who don’t engage in regular physical activity? If so, I challenge you to improve your health, and maybe even prevent or delay diseases and disabilities associated with aging. All you have to do is begin.