November 11, 2010
Engaging in regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do to remain healthy. Many different types of physical activity can help reduce some of the aches, pains and stiffness associated with getting older, even if you have chronic conditions such as heart disease, arthritis or diabetes. Regular exercise also can help seniors stay independent and may decrease anxiety and depression.
“Aging causes our bodies to become weaker, and muscles aren’t as strong as they used to be,” says Dr. Neela Shah, a physician on the medical staff at Centennial Medical Center. “Strength training can help build muscle tissue, reduce age-related muscle loss, maintain the integrity of your bones and improve balance and mobility.”
Dr. Shah also says physical activity can reduce the signs and symptoms of many chronic diseases, including arthritis, diabetes and osteoporosis.
After checking with your doctor, you can start a basic strength training program at home. Common household items such as a plastic milk jug or water bottle filled with sand or water, a sock filled with dried beans, a bag of rice or soup cans can provide you with the tools you need. Dr. Shah said to start slowly using less weight, about 2-5 pounds and gradually increase as tolerated. She also recommends warming up first with a low-intensity activity such as walking.
Many seniors limit physical activity because they are worried about the risk of injury; however, regular physical activity is important at any age and can offer added benefits to older adults.
In addition to strength training, seniors should incorporate endurance activities and flexibility or balance exercises into their routine. Some form of aerobic activity is recommended for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week for seniors or as approved by your physician. Strength training should be done two days per week, but avoid exercising the same muscle group on consecutive days, Dr. Shah advises.
Endurance activities, such as brisk walking, swimming, dancing, bicycling and playing tennis, help boost your heart rate. The breathing required for an extended period of time can improve the health of your heart and circulatory system.
Flexibility and balance exercises through programs like yoga or tai chi can keep your body limber and flexible and could prevent fall-related injuries and fractures.
“Sports are a great option. Choose one that you are interested in and suits your lifestyle, budget and medical background,” Dr. Shah said. “If you have knee problems, you probably would want to avoid jogging but may want to consider walking or water aerobics. If you are not interested in being inside the gym, perhaps golf would be a better choice. Tennis is another option because it helps maintain aerobic fitness, increases agility, and enhances flexibility.”
Remember to begin with low-intensity workouts and gradually work your way up. Wear comfortable clothes, the appropriate shoes for the activity, and be sure to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercising. Dr. Shah said if you experience muscle cramps or pain in your joints, feet, ankles or legs, stop exercising. There may be signs that you are overdoing it. Seek emergency medical care if you have any of these symptoms while exercising:
- Chest pain or pressure, including pain in the shoulders, jaw or back
- Become lightheaded, dizzy or faint
- Experience nausea or break out in a cold sweat