Going to the doctor is never fun, but it gets especially harrowing when you move past the buoyant years of your 20s and early 30s, when good health is mostly a given. In fact, the vast majority of patients make it to middle age before they receive the first negative results on their physical. Your cholesterol’s slightly elevated, or your doctor’s concerned about your bone density. Suddenly you have flashes of an old age spent in decrepitude and failing health. The news isn’t pretty, but the silver lining to it all? You’re finally ready to embrace your doctor’s advice to get back into shape and delete the takeout app off your phone.
The list of health benefits for exercise goes on and on. Strength training improves bone density and wards off osteoporosis. Physical activity boosts immune system functioning, lowering older adult’s likelihood for developing pneumonia and life-threatening flus. Regular cardio helps manage weight and reduces the risk heart disease and stroke. Some studies even suggest that it helps with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, as well. So working out now will definitely set you up for an improved old age—think of it like a retirement fund for your body. Here’s how to get started.
Find Ways to Stay Active in Your Day-to-day Life
The words “fitness routine” or “exercise program” can seem intimidating, especially to someone who’s lived most of their life without ever stepping foot inside a gym. However, many daily tasks can be classified as “physical activity”—even if they don’t include weights or exercise equipment.
So maybe you’re just not the gym type. That doesn’t mean exercise has to be torture. Many people find they get more enjoyment out of activity that doesn’t feel like a workout, like gardening, hiking, or walking a pet, all of which qualify as physical activity if you do it right.
Additionally, another idea is to try to make daily tasks a little more physically demanding, such as taking a flight of stairs instead of an elevator, or parking in a spot that’s farther away from the door. These changes may seem slight, but they add up. Walking, in particular, comes with additional mental health benefits, as well. For instance, a quick jaunt in a nearby park reduces our tendency to brood over negative aspects of our lives—a shot in the arm to cope with our busy, overcrowded lives.
Incorporate Activities that Challenge and Strengthen Balance
Tripping over your feet now just makes you feel a little silly, but as you age it becomes a much more serious threat. That may not exactly be breaking news to you, but it does hit home when you hear just how dangerous falls really are to the elderly. For instance, about 95 percent of hip fractures can be contributed to accidental falls, and many of these lead to very serious health complications.
The best idea is to start working on your balance and flexibility now, while your muscles and bones are still resilient. The CDC recommends adding balance activities, like tai chi or yoga, into your regular fitness routines. These activities are also ideal for those dealing with the beginnings of arthritis and muscle pain. In particular, standing yoga positions like tree pose and warrior postures challenge balance yet are appropriate for less flexible bodies. In fact, even practicing walking heel-to-toe or standing on one foot can develop balance, lowering the risk of falls.
Strength Training for Health Now—and Well into the Future
Fitness goes through fads just like anything else, of course, and for now, the focus is mainly on cardio and flexibility. Those are great to have, but a well-rounded fitness program really should include some weight training as well—even if it’s just lifting weights at home in your living room while you watch TV.
Muscle strength helps with coordination, so it plays a vital part in warding off those falls discussed above. Meanwhile, it can also alleviate arthritis symptoms, as well. Plus, according to Harvard Health Publications, most people lose a quarter of their muscle strength between ages 30 and 70—and that number goes down to about 50 percent by age 90.
So regular strength training now will ward off those “frail old person” stereotypes.
The trick is keeping your movements graceful and fluid—you’re going for mobility here, not mass—so you don’t have to load up the bench press with the heaviest weights you can handle.
In particular, the National Institutes of Health recommends lighter activities like arm curls, wrist curls, and leg straightening exercises. If holding the weights in the hand is too difficult, you can substitute wrist or leg weights, as well.
Looking for a more personalized approach? If you have specific conditions in your health history, you could benefit from the advice of a personal trainer who specializes in health-focused exercise. Trainers can adapt programs and training routines to meet individual requirements. Keeping safe, healthy, and happy? It’s what a good workout program is all about!
Erin Vaughan is a blogger, gardener and aspiring homeowner. She currently resides in Austin, TX where she writes about health and wellness for FitnessTrainer.
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