Sunday, April 21, 2024

Starting a Senior Fitness Program

senior exercise

Many of us think that there is no use in beginning an exercise program after a “certain age” – whatever that may be for each of us! But, the reality is, no matter when you start a fitness program, it can and will have results for our health, appearance, and weight - no matter how old we are. Remember that all fitness programs should be started with an “okay” from your doctor!

People often ask “what is the best workout program?” The answer is very simple: It is the one that you will actually do on a regular basis! So, why exercise in your later years?

Benefits of Senior Fitness Program

  • Cardiovascular – Any type of exercise that gets your heart rate up for 10 minutes or more, done regularly, can improve circulation, heart functioning, and arterial health. Today they say “sitting is the new smoking” meaning that a sedentary life can be just as dangerous to our hearts as smoking. Get moving for a healthy heart!
  • Musculo-Skeletal – A body in motion stays in motion. If you are having some minor aches and pains, these can be actually helped by exercise. Again, make sure you check with a doctor first, but often movement can help our joints, increase flexibility, build bone mass, and make our muscles stronger and more coordinated - preventing motion-related injuries.
  • Prevents Falls – The more you exercise, the stronger, more flexible, and more coordinated you are. This can help prevent falls.
  • Remain Mobile and Independent – The more fit you are, the more capable you are. This means getting your own groceries, ability to go up and down stairs, driving, etc. Regular exercise is likely to keep you independent longer.
  • Confidence – part of confidence is simply energy. Having the reserves to deal with challenges and overcoming physical challenges can enhance our view of ourselves and increase our self-esteem.
  • More Energy – when starting a new exercise program, it may cause a little fatigue. However, if you keep at it regularly, you may find yourself gaining in energy and stamina. As you improve your cardiovascular system, you will not be as winded doing minor chores, etc.
  • Better Control of Weight –Regular exercise can and will trim pounds
  • Prevents Many Diseases - Exercise is thought to be a factor in preventing diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s Disease. Most chronic conditions you already may have will also improve with exercise.
  • Improves Sleep - People who exercise regularly will sleep longer and more soundly than those who live sedentary lives.Exercise should be done, however, at least 4 hours before you intend to sleep.
  • Beats the Blues - It is hard to exercise and be depressed. Certain brain chemicals are released during exercise, which make us feel happier

Obstacles To Exercise

So, as you can see, if they sold exercise in a bottle, people would be buying it by the case. The trouble is, it is often difficult to want to exercise! In general, people do not prioritize it and few of us stay with it long enough to start seeing benefits.

One reason may be that it is delayed gratification. At first, exercise can be uncomfortable, irritating, unpleasant and boring. People also tend to do it only for vanity reasons of losing weight – which is often not enough of a motivation to do it over the long haul. If you tie the exercise to health and stay with it long enough to start feeling more energized and coordinated, you are more likely to stay with it. The weight loss and fit appearance may take longer to kick in – but it will.  So, remember to do it for health!

Another obstacle is that people start with too much enthusiasm and it becomes overwhelming or actually causes injuries!  Start small and build up your stamina and strength!  Likewise, some people begin exercise programs by shopping!  They start buying lots of equipment or gym memberships thinking that their investment will keep them motivated.  I can tell you by driving around and seeing treadmills on the curb for garbage pick up that this rarely works.  Keep it simple and you are more likely to stay with it.  Use a tv program, simply walk in your neighborhood, or lift small hand weights you can buy cheaply at a big box store like Wal-Mart.  There is no need to over-complicated an exercise program.

There are also millions of excuses – like in this Nike Commercial. But, the truth is, you simply must make it a non-negotiable priority like brushing your teeth, paying bills, or cooking dinner. It simply must become something you do regularly whether you feel like it or not. It takes about 30 days for a new habit to kick in, so if you can force yourself to prioritize it, you will start to feel odd if you DON’T exercise!

What Types of Exercise Should You Do?

For seniors, again, it is strongly recommended that you get clearance from your regular physician so that you know it is safe to start. But, for many, simple 20 minutes a day of brisk walking is as simple as it gets. If you can’t get out because of weather, consider walking at a local shopping mall.

The public broadcasting channel in your area often has senior exercise programs televised – some of which are seated exercises for those who have more mobility limits.

Yoga is a nice exercise for increasing flexibility and reducing muscle and skeletal pain.

And many local gyms participate in a program called Silver Sneakers.  Silver Sneakers programs are sometimes covered by your insurance program – check them out and see if there are programs near you! Often, YMCA’s will also have senior-friendly classes.

Getting Started

First thing you should do is talk to your doctor. He or she should be able to recommend an exercise program for you that takes your special health considerations into account. Check out local gyms and your public tv for exercise classes and programs. Consider getting a buddy to join you or at the very least, ask a family member to be your “check-in” person who helps you stay on track. For those of you with computers, think about setting up Sage Track-Its to remind you to log your exercise progress. Last, but not least, start slowly! This cannot be emphasized enough. Often people will over-do it the first day and quit shortly after that. Start very small. If you are totally sedentary now, think about walking 10 minutes twice a week to begin. Good habits do not happen suddenly and you will unlikely go from being a couch potato to running a marathon. So, build up your comfort level slowly and you will be more likely to stick with it and gradually enter it as a routine into your daily life.

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