One of the most common resolutions made each New Year is to get fit and stay fit; however by February most people have given up. While this is a worthy goal for overall health and wellbeing, older adults need to be careful about diet and exercise because of changes in the body that occur with age. For your safety, always remember to discuss changes in diet and exercise, including the following recommendations, with a health provider.
Physical activity can do a number of things for people of all ages but may be especially helpful to older adults. In addition to helping your mood and increasing social interaction, physical activity may help prevent, delay or improve conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Physical activity also helps strengthen muscles and bones which have a tendency to weaken as the body ages.
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) recommends the following when considering exercise:
• Stretch. Before you start any exercise and after you complete any exercise, you will want to stretch your muscles. This will help loosen and warm your muscles in addition to helping prevent injury and cramping. It is also important to remember that you may or may not be thirsty during or after exercise; however, your body will need plenty of water, especially after you are finished exercising.
• 30 minutes. The NIA suggests that you should do something to increase your heart and breathing rate for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. The 30 minutes do not have to be all at once, you could do three 10-minute exercises. A good rule of thumb to see if you are doing enough is to try to talk during exercise: if you cannot talk at all, you are exercising too hard; if you can talk without any trouble, you are not exercising hard enough.
• Use your muscles. Every time you move a part of your body, you are using a muscle. When those muscles are not used because of a lack of physical activity they weaken. If your muscles get too weak, you may not be able to walk or even get up from a seated position. In addition, strong muscles help reinforce your bones, making it less likely that you will fall. Whatever exercise you do should include something that uses your muscles, whether you are walking laps or raking leaves in the front yard.
• Improve your balance. In addition to strengthening your muscles, it is also very important to strengthen your sense of balance. After all, many falls are caused by loss of balance. To do this, try standing on one foot, holding onto a chair for support if you are unable to do this task alone. Also, try standing from a seated position without using your hands or arms. Be very careful when trying these activities and have someone else present when you are doing them.
Your health provider will be a key player in your exercise routine. Please remember to consult him or her before beginning any type of physical activity. You will want to discuss with him or her how your personal health condition may be affected by exercise. Also, you will want to start slowly with any type of exercise routine. A good adage to remember is “start low and go slow.” Doing too much, too soon may seriously injure your body.
Some safety recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine are
• Do not hold your breath while straining.
• Use safety equipment to prevent injury. This may mean a helmet for bike riding or proper shoes for walking or running.
• Drink plenty of liquids unless specifically advised otherwise by your health provider.
• Bend from the hips, not from the waist.
• Exercise may cause soreness or a little discomfort but should never cause pain.
The National Institute on Aging has publication entitled Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging that has more information on exercising for older adults as well as suggestions and illustrations for exercises. This information is available in English and Spanish. The booklet is free and may be viewed on-line, downloaded or ordered from http://www.niapublications.org/exercisebook/index.asp. The NIA has also produced a video to accompany the booklet which may be ordered for $7.00 from the address above.
For more information, contact your County Extension Agent.