Fitness Over 40

Fitness for Older Adults: 7 Exercise Programs for Healthy Aging

Posted by LeeAnn Langdon on Fri, Sep 23, 2011 @ 08:28 AM

Getting older is not for sissies. If you neglected to take fanatical care of your body and your health in your 20s, 30s and 40s, all heck starts to break loose once you hit your 50s and 60s. Joints ache, muscles stiffen and stamina wanes. If you’re like 68% of adults in America, you’re also overweight or obese. It seems unfair that just when your kids go off to school or you start looking forward to retirement your body stops cooperating.

Fitness for Older AdultsBut of course, there’s good news. A little bit of regular exercise done consistently goes a long way toward reviving your health so you can reclaim your youthful vigor. Getting started is often the hardest part, especially if you’re trying to make sense of all the new fitness trends and buzzwords (BOSU? What the heck is that?) So here’s a list of seven tried-and-true options that are easy to learn, fun to do, and appropriate for aging bodies getting back into the swing of things.

    • Walking. No need to sign up for a marathon to get your aerobic workout (although if you want to challenge yourself, we’ll cheer you on)! If you haven’t been exercising regularly for several years, walking is the easiest, safest and most effective way to start. It takes no athletic prowess, no equipment beyond a comfortable pair of shoes, and you can do it right in your own neighborhood or halfway around the world. Start with just 10 or 15 minutes if that’s all you can handle, and gradually build up until you can walk briskly for 30 minutes or more at a stretch.
    • Swimming. If arthritis or other joint issues keep you from walking, or if you’re severely overweight, swimming could be just the right exercise for you. The buoyancy of the water helps ease pressure on your joints, but you can still get a great aerobic workout. If swimming laps isn’t your thing, see if you can find a water aerobics or water walking program at your community recreation center.
    • Mind-Body Exercises. Yoga and Tai Chi are the best known mind-body exercises, but you might also be interested in Pilates, Qi Gong, or Nia classes. What they all have in common is connecting your mind and body, to create better body awareness and to relieve stress. As a bonus, most mind-body exercises help improve flexibility and balance while being adaptable to different physical abilities.
    • Balance Training. You needn’t invest in a high wire or balance beam to develop your balance skills. Simple exercises done at home can help you learn to stabilize your core so you can maintain your balance over a changing center of gravity. As you age, your body loses its ability to balance properly, so it’s never too early to begin training those muscles to keep you stable.
    • Flexibility Training. Our joints naturally stiffen and our muscles shorten as we age, but a regular flexibility and stretching program can help slow the process and keep joints supple. Just a few minutes of stretching and range of motion exercises every day (at the end of your aerobic workout is best) can help keep your joints limber and pain-free.
    • Resistance Training. You know it better as weight lifting, but you don’t necessarily need weights to get resistance. You can use your body weight or exercise bands as well. Resistance training is a must for older adults, because once we hit 40 we begin to lose a half pound of muscle every year—and those are the muscles we need to pick up our grandkids and carry the laundry upstairs. I promise you won’t get big and bulky (unless you’re willing to work your tail off), but your muscles and bones will get stronger, and you’ll burn calories more efficiently.
    • Functional Fitness. The last workout to consider is a functional fitness workout that includes elements of resistance, endurance, balance and flexibility, and trains the body in five essential movements. It’s designed not just to train specific muscles, but to train your muscles and joints (and the nerves that control them) to work together efficiently. A functional fitness workout trains your body to move properly so you can continue to manage the activities of daily living as you age.

    With a little consistent effort every day, getting older can mean getting better. Try out any or all of these seven exercise programs, and soon you'll feel younger and stronger than ever.

    (photo credit: HomeInstead402)

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    Tags: balance, senior exercise, functional fitness, cardiovascular exercise, flexibility, weight bearing exercise

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