Active Aging Week
It takes effort to make physical fitness a priority. Exercise takes time and can be tough, tiring work, especially when a person is first starting out. Furthermore, when aging or disease interferes with an individual’s strength and endurance, it can start to feel like the goal of getting active is getting farther out of reach.
However, this is far from the case. The goal of Active Aging Week (September 27-October 3) is to shine a light on the diverse and enjoyable activities that seniors can and do pursue for fun and fitness. Read on for a refresher on the benefits of exercise, some fun activities for seniors to pursue, and safety tips for approaching any exercise as safely as possible.
How Exercise Benefits You
There are two major types of cardiovascular activity, and each has distinct benefits for your health and wellness. Cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise, the kind of sustained activity that brings up your heart rate while you do it, boosts heart and lung health and increases endurance. Activities that build up muscle strength (anaerobic) are important in a different way, helping your body to use less energy to do more, and also improving core strength and balance.
How Your Body Benefits:
- Strengthened heart, circulation, and blood oxygen levels
- Decreased heart rate and blood pressure
- Strengthened breathing muscles that improve respiration
- Improved blood sugar control
- Help with weight loss and maintenance
- Better protected against falls
How You’ll Feel:
- Stronger and more energized
- Reduced symptoms of chronic illness
- Able to do more activities, and for longer
- Less stress and better mood
- Improved sleep
Active and Loving It
A key element to getting and staying active is finding an activity that you enjoy enough to make a habit of. The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity. ‘Moderate intensity’ generally means that you can engage in conversation during the exercise.
If you’re just starting out, walking is a great introduction to fitness; as you get stronger, you can increase your walking speed and duration as you feel able, and try other activities that you enjoy. Start slow and controlled, building up over time to 20- to 30-minute exercise sessions, at least 5 times per week.
But walking isn’t for everyone; for others, repetitive gym equipment like an elliptical machine may not be a good fit. Remember that any activity that gets you moving is a form of exercise. Dancing, hiking, swimming, water aerobics, and table tennis can all be ways of getting fitter, in any combination. Consider finding a local group exercise class, or arranging a family outing to walk around a carnival or festival, to keep your routine from getting stale.
Safe Guidelines for Any Exercise
- Before exercising, stretch for a few minutes to warm up your muscles and prevent injury. As an added bonus, stretching helps with balance and flexibility.
- Don’t stand still or sit or lie down immediately after exercising, which may make you feel dizzy. Continue moving to cool down and let your heart rate slowly return to normal.
- Don’t exercise outdoors in extreme heat or cold — instead, choose an indoor activity, like walking at a nearby mall.
- If you’re unable to exercise for long periods of time, try shorter sessions at an intensity that you can maintain. One or more slow, 10-minute walks each day does more good than staying sedentary.
- If your health is compromised or you are new to exercise, avoid activities that require quick bursts of energy or heavy exertion.
- If any exercise gives you feelings of breathlessness, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, or chest tightness or pain, stop and talk to your doctor or clinician.
Before starting a new exercise routine or activity, consult with your doctor about your fitness plan and follow his or her instructions. Ask what you should be doing, for how long, and how you should feel while exercising, based on your personal health status and drug regimen. Your doctor or clinician will be more than happy to help you get on the path toward an active lifestyle and better health.