Exercise and physical activity are good for you, no matter how old you are. In fact, staying active can help you:
- Keep and improve your strength so you can stay independent
- Have more energy to do the things you want to do
- Improve your balance
- Prevent or delay some diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer
- Perk up your mood and help reduce depression
You don’t need to buy special clothes or belong to a gym to become more active. Physical activity can and should be part of your everyday life. Find things you like to do. Go for brisk walks. Ride a bike. Dance. Work around the house. Garden. Climb stairs. Swim. Rake leaves. Try different kinds of activities that keep you moving. Look for new ways to build physical activity into your daily routine.
Who should exercise?
Almost anyone at any age can do some type of physical activity. You can still exercise even if you have a long-term condition like heart disease or diabetes. In fact, physical activity may help. For most older adults, taking a brisk walk, riding a bike, swimming, lifting weights and gardening are safe, especially if you build up slowly. But check with your health care provider if you are over 50 and aren’t used to energetic activity. You also should check with your health care provider if you have:
- A chronic disease such as diabetes or heart disease
- Any new symptom you haven’t discussed with your health care provider
- Dizziness or shortness of breath
- Chest pain or the feeling that your heart is skipping, racing or fluttering
- Blood clots
- An infection or fever
- Unplanned weight loss
- Foot or ankle sores that won’t heal
- Joint swelling
- A bleeding or detached retina, eye surgery or laser treatment
- A hernia
- Prior hip surgery
Here are some things you can do to make sure you are exercising safely:
- Start slowly. This is especially important if you haven’t been active for a long time. Little by little, build up your activities and how hard you work at them.
- Don’t hold your breath during strength exercises. That could cause changes in your blood pressure. It may seem strange at first, but the rule is to breathe out as you lift something and breathe in as you relax.
- Use safety equipment. For example, wear a helmet for bike riding or the right shoes for walking or jogging.
- Keep hydrated. Unless your doctor has asked you to limit fluids, be sure to drink often when you are doing activities.
- Always bend forward from the hips, not the waist. If you keep your back straight, you’re probably bending the right way. If your back “humps,” that’s probably wrong.
- Warm up your muscles before you stretch. Try walking and light arm pumping first.
- Exercise should not hurt or make you feel really tired. You might feel some soreness, a little discomfort or a bit weary but you should not feel pain. In fact, in many ways, being active will probably make you feel better.
How to Find Out More
Local fitness centers or hospitals might be able to help you find a physical activity program that works for you. You also can check with nearby religious groups, senior and civic centers, parks, recreation associations, YMCAs, YWCAs or even area shopping malls for exercise, wellness or walking programs.
Looking for a safe exercise program? Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging has strength, balance and stretching exercises you can do at home. You can order a free copy in English from the NIA Information Center. A Spanish version is available online at http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation. NIA also has a 48-minute exercise video/DVD for $7.