Getting Older, Staying Fit
"I'm too old to exercise." "Exercise isn't good for my arthritis." "It won't do me any good."
These are some of the common misconceptions that keep older adults from getting involved in a fitness program. The truth is that exercise has a multitude of benefits for older people:
- It's good for almost any chronic condition. (Exercise is particularly good for osteoarthritis. It builds strength in surrounding muscles, which help support the joint. It also helps keep the joints lubricated, which reduces pain.)
- It's good for prevention of many conditions.
- It can strengthen your immune system.
- It can give your mental outlook a boost.
- It can improve balance.
- It can sometimes even help reduce the amount of medications you need to take.
The key is to bring exercise into your life in a way that works for you and doesn't seem like a chore.
Make a plan that suits your needs
If you'd rather do something that doesn't require going to a gym or getting special equipment, think about walking or gardening regularly.
If you'd like to try a more structured plan, ask your doctor or other healthcare provider about wellness centers that offer programs geared to people over 55. One big benefit of exercising at a place like this is that you'll meet other people you'll probably have something in common with. Exercising regularly with others is a good way to make new friends.
Wellness centers can also help get you started on a gentle weight-training program. Weight training can help increase your strength and improve or maintain the health of your bones.
Work around your limitations
If you have arthritis, think about taking up swimming or cycling. If you're interested in improving your balance, look into taking t'ai chi. This slow-moving exercise has been shown to decrease falls in the older population. If you have limited use of your legs, there are always armchair exercises that work your upper body and get your heart pumping.
No matter what kinds of physical limitations you have, there's an excellent chance that there are activities out there for you. Ask your doctor about professionals and organizations that can help you get on a path toward increased fitness.
Know when to stop
As with just about anything in life, moderation is a key element to a successful exercise program.
- Don't exercise when you're sick or running a temperature.
- Don't strain during exercise. True pain indicates you're working too hard or you have an injury,
- Keep things to such a level that you can carry on a conversation during your workout.
- Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.
Stop right away and call your doctor if you experience
- Chest pain or tightness in the neck, chest or throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Abnormal heart rhythm, dizziness, lightheadedness
- Excessive cold sweat
Getting regular, sustained exercise has almost as much of a psychological and mental benefit as a physical one. It can improve confidence, build self-esteem and help reduce depression. In the last decade, there's been increased interest among health professionals in improving and creating exercise opportunities for older people. Let your doctor know you're interesting in becoming more active, and you can get started in no time.
The American Senior Fitness Association; The Arthritis Foundation; The National Institute on Aging, April 2002