Getting regular exercise is a good idea for anybody, but for seniors, it may be even more important.
Regular exercise has all kinds of benefits for the 60-and-up crowd, and here are just a few:
- Helping to prevent certain diseases, including heart disease, the no. 1 killer in the U.S. Exercise helps prevent diabetes and strengthens the immune system.
- Better social engagement. Isolation can be a problem for seniors. Humans are social creatures. We need to be around other people — well, most of us do, anyway. Having like-minded, supportive friends can help prevent loneliness and depression, a sense of lack of purpose. One way to find new friends is to join a walking group or a group fitness class. Find something to do that is active and enjoyable.
- Better mental health. Exercise is a great stress reliever. It helps improve sleep quality, especially for older folks who may suffer sleep issues like insomnia. Exercise helps the body produce a chemical called endorphins, also referred to as the “happy hormone.”
- Improved brain function. Studies show a lower risk of developing things like dementia in more physically active people.
- Reduced risk of accidental falls. This is a big one. Losing one’s independence can be a major concern as the years go by. Accidental falls are a leading cause of serious injury and hospitalizations — even death — for people 65 and older. Regular exercise improves strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination, thereby reducing the risk of an accidental fall.
In short, exercise is not only good for seniors, but extremely important to maintaining quality of life.
Recommended health guidelines suggest getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. Walking is a great form of exercise for seniors — and anybody else, for that matter. Walking is easy to do; it requires no special equipment (other than some quality walking shoes); and can be done most anywhere. Make 150 minutes a week your goal. If you can’t achieve that right away, work up to it. Start with 20 minutes of walking 3-5 days a week and gradually increase that. If you can get 30 minutes, five days a week, there you go.
Strength training is also important, and should be done a minimum of two days a week. These sessions should also include flexibility (stretching) and balance exercises.
If you are a beginner, remember to start slowly and warm up before you start. Also, drink plenty of water. Six to eight glasses a day, at least. C’mon, it’s not that much …
Don’t be afraid to join a gym and ask for help. Walking into a health club full of young, fit bodies working out can be intimidating, sure, but it won’t take long to feel more comfortable, gain confidence and learn what you’re doing. Chances are also good that you will meet other seniors and maybe even find a workout partner.
If you have any health issues — heart disease, diabetes, kidney problems, arthritis, high blood pressure, for example — it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. If you want to work with a personal trainer to help get you started, he or she should always ask you about your medical history during a consultation before you get started.
A lot of people start an exercise program with good intentions, but lots and lots of them don’t stick with it. It happens all the time.
So how to make exercise a habit?
Find something fun. It needs to be at least somewhat enjoyable. Who wants to do something on a regular basis that they don’t enjoy?
Make exercise a regular part of your daily routine. Decide on a schedule for exercise, and stick to it. No excuses. If you miss one day, that too often leads to missing a second day, then a third. Pretty soon, those best-laid plans go by the wayside. Finding a workout partner can be a great help. Get a friend to join you and you can help hold each other accountable.
Commit to your new routine for one month. Some say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. That’s three weeks, of course, but let’s make it four weeks for good measure.
So that’s it — short but sweet.
There’s no better time to start a new exercise routine than now.
As a friend of mine says, “Why not today?”
Let me know if you need any help.