Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean that it’s too late to get in shape. In fact, research shows that older people who have never exercised can still benefit from physical conditioning. By starting a regular exercise program, you can help prevent coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, depression and some cancer. Physical fitness reduces the effects of osteoporosis and arthritis — two conditions which can severely limit an older person’s lifestyle. Being in good shape physically can help you remain independent as you age and improve the quality of your life.
So how do you get started with a fitness regime if you’re older and haven’t been active? First, talk to your doctor. While you can begin an exercise program at any age, certain medical conditions such as cardiac problems, lung disease, diabetes, etc., mean that your progress needs to be monitored. Your doctor can help you determine which type of exercise is best for you and give you advice on how to make the most of your exercise program.
Your program should include aerobic exercise, weight or strength training and exercises for flexibility. Aerobic exercise helps strengthen your heart and helps maintain lung capacity. Aerobic exercise may slow or prevent the buildup of plaque in your arteries and veins (atherosclerosis) and ward of hardening of the arteries by keeping them flexible. Sustained aerobic exercise may help control Type II diabetes by helping your body metabolize sucrose.
Weight or strength training helps strengthen your bones and muscles and may help lower your cholesterol. Weight training improves the strength of your ligaments and tendons so that less stress is placed on your joints. Several studies among nursing home residents have shown that even frail older adults can increase their muscle strength and decrease their disability. Additionally, one study of stroke survivors who participated in a strength training program found that they were able to improve their lower body strength and improve their mobility.
Flexibility training or stretching helps you improve the range of motion for your joints. In addition to your wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles, stretching can help your back. Flexibility exercises can ease stiffness that often is associated with aging. Physical activity may keep arthritic joints from freezing. You should remember that becoming more flexible takes time. Do your stretching slowly and gently at first to prevent injury.
Consult with a physician before beginning a fitness program. Call 800-681-2733 to find a physician or specialist near you.