Older adults are not trying to become performance athletes. There are exceptions. In most cases, older adults want to be happy, feel good, and live their life free of long, lingering, debilitating illnesses. They want to be mobile and independent and not have to give up their reliance on themselves. The reality is that it means exercise and eating healthfully, breathing deeply, getting outside, and having a positive attitude on life.
Most senior adults understand the importance of exercise but most don’t do anything about it. I am often asked, “What is the best exercise for me?” The flippant answer is simply, “The ones that you’ll do”. But that doesn’t answer the real question. The real answer depends on a lot of variables, such as:
- Are you doing any exercise now? If so, what are you doing?
- Have you exercised in the recent past or are you mostly sedentary? Are you starting completely from scratch?
- What kind of physical condition are you in now? What is the condition of your basic infrastructure: Your muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, bone density, and internal organs?
Those are just some of the many questions you should be asking yourself before you can decide on what sort of exercise is best for you. And of course you should check with your doctor and get the OK to start any sort of exercise program.
So should you participate in vigorous physical activity, or should you go in for a more relaxed routine? Notice I use the word “routine”. Yes physical exercise should become a routine part of your day — every day. Yes, every day. Does that mean you must lift heavy weights and run miles every day? Of course not. But walking, stretching, and vigorous movement of some sort should be part of your day, with more vigorous cardio and resistance movements at regular intervals during the week. Rest and recovery are major parts to any exercise program but that doesn’t mean being a couch potatoes on days you don’t exercise.
How long should you exercise. I would suggest at least a minimum of thirty minutes to an hour, four days a week at the very minimum. You can break this up into increments throughout the day, but frankly you are better off with a warm up and then going straight through a regular routine until you finish.
When is the best time of day? Any time you are doing them, but you’ll feel better throughout the day if you do them in the early morning? What! Get up early? The only time I would suggest as a bad time is just before you go to bed. It’s not a good idea to get wound up just before bed. And if you are doing any sort of resistance exercise or heavy cardio exercise, then wait an hour or so after eating.
What is the best way to exercise? That depends on you, your body make up and the condition you are in now. In most cases you can do more than you think you can. You can lift a heavier weight, walk or run a little farther than you think. But you shouldn’t start off trying to push yourself too hard. Starting off by working untrained muscles and other infrastructure too hard, can result in injury.
There are many options depending on what interests you. Many people swear by Yoga, others Pilates, and others by a simple routine they can do at home.
What kind of equipment will you need? You can start off with just your own body, a straight backed chair, and the floor. You can do most of the exercises you need to start by using just those tools. You can use soup cans as dumbells to start with and then move on to real dumbells as you progress. A pair of three to five pound dumbells will get you started after the soup cans. And exercise bands that you can pick up at a big box store or sporting goods store make great tools. They come in several levels of resistance and it is good to buy a set of three. I like the wider bands that are lightweight and easy to carry. Easy to carry? Yes, that means take them with you and use them when you travel. That’s all the equipment you need.
Where to exercise? If you plan to really dive into a major exercise program, I would suggest a local health club or gym. There are national chains in nearly every town and city. But you can exercise at home or in a hotel room, or anywhere else there is a space to fit your body into – and for most, that’s not a lot of space.
Should you get a Personal Trainer? That’s certainly an option, but it’s not necessary. If you are truly out of condition and have been sedentary for many years, then it might make sense to have a Personal Trainer get you started. Whether you use a trainer or not, you should start slowly and build up to a more vigorous routine as your body becomes acclimated to exercise. Many people starting exercise after a long layoff, or even for the first time, try to do too much, too fast. They ache, have pain, and overwork themselves. Then they say that exercise is too difficult, or it doesn’t work — and they stop. Don’t let that happen to you.
This has been a quick overview. Nothing more, nothing less. There are plenty of exercise books at the library and bookstores to read, but none or few are for adults older than 55. That seems to be a cutoff point. That must be why I am producing an Ebook/Manual of Basic Exercise for Active Older Adults. It will be simple, clear, and useful. Look for it online sometime in late July.
Don’t be in a hurry. Start slowly and do what works for you. But do something.
Thanks for reading.