Friday Fit Tip: HOT TREND #8 – Fitness programs for older adults.

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Updated: March 18, 2016

Coach Rozy’s Friday Fit Tip
HOT TREND #8 – Fitness programs for older adults.

by
Mark “Coach Rozy” Roozen

Studies show that after 40 years old, we begin to lose muscle mass and strength, so fitness programs that keep older adults healthy and active are crucial. We’re happy to see that health and fitness professionals will continue to focus on creating age-appropriate and safe workout programs in 2016.As you grow older, an active lifestyle is more important than ever. Regular exercise can help boost energy, maintain your independence, and manage symptoms of illness or pain. Exercise can even reverse some of the symptoms of aging. And not only is exercise good for your body, it’s also good for your mind, mood, and memory. Whether you are generally healthy or are managing an illness, there are plenty of ways to get more active, improve confidence, and boost your fitness.

Exercise is the key to healthy aging

Starting or maintaining a regular exercise routine can be a challenge as you get older. You may feel discouraged by illness, ongoing health problems, or concerns about injuries or falls. Or, if you’ve never exercised before, you may not know where to begin. Or perhaps you think you’re too old or frail, or that exercise is boring or simply not for you.

While these may seem like good reasons to slow down and take it easy as you age, they’re actually even better reasons to get moving. Exercise can energize your mood, relieve stress, help you manage symptoms of illness and pain, and improve your overall sense of well-being. In fact, exercise is the key to staying strong, energetic, and healthy as you get older. And it can even be fun, too, especially if you find like-minded people to exercise with.

No matter your age or your current physical condition, you can benefit from exercise. Reaping the rewards of exercise doesn’t have to involve strenuous workouts or trips to the gym. It’s about adding more movement and activity to your life, even in small ways. Whether you are generally healthy or are managing an illness—even if you’re housebound—there are many easy ways to get your body moving and improve your health and outlook.

Five myths about exercise and aging

Myth 1: There’s no point to exercising. I’m going to get old anyway.

Fact: Exercise and strength training helps you look and feel younger and stay active longer. Regular physical activity lowers your risk for a variety of conditions, including Alzheimer’s and dementia, heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, high blood pressure, and obesity. Not only can exercise help stem the decline in strength and vitality that comes with age, it even improve it. And the mood benefits of exercise can be just as great as 70 or 80 as they were at 20 or 30.

Myth 2: Older people shouldn’t exercise. They should save their strength and rest.

Fact: Research shows that a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy for adults over 50. Inactivity often causes older adults to lose the ability to do things on their own and can lead to more hospitalizations, doctor visits, and use of medicines for illnesses.

Myth 3: Exercise puts me at risk of falling down.

Fact: Regular exercise, by building strength and stamina, prevents loss of bone mass and improves balance, actually reducing your risk of falling.

Myth 4: It’s too late. I’m already too old to start exercising.

Fact: You’re never too old to start exercising and improve your health! In fact, adults who take up exercise later in life often show greater physical and mental improvements than their younger counterparts. If you’ve never exercised before, or it’s been a while, you won’t be encumbered by the same sports injuries that many regular exercisers experience in later life. In other words, there aren’t as many miles on your clock so you’ll quickly start reaping the rewards. Just begin with gentle activities and build up from there.

Myth 5: I’m disabled. I can’t exercise sitting down.

Fact: Chair-bound people face special challenges but can lift light weights, stretch, and do chair aerobics, chair yoga, and chair Tai Chi to increase range of motion, improve muscle tone and flexibility, and promote cardiovascular health. Many swimming pools offer access to wheelchair users and there are adaptive exercise programs for wheelchair sports such as basketball.

The physical and mental benefits of exercise for older adults

As you age, regular exercise is more important than ever to your overall health. In fact, a recent Swedish study found that exercise was the number one contributor to longevity, adding extra years to your life—even if you don’t start exercising until your senior years. But it’s not just about adding years to your life, it’s about adding life to your years. You’ll not only look better when you exercise, you’ll feel sharper, more energetic, and experience a greater sense of well-being.

Physical health benefits of exercise and fitness for older adults

• Exercise helps older adults maintain or lose weight. As metabolism naturally slows with age, maintaining a healthy weight is a challenge. Exercise helps increase metabolism and builds muscle mass, helping to burn more calories. When your body reaches a healthy weight, your overall wellness will improve.

• Exercise reduces the impact of illness and chronic disease. Among the many benefits of exercise for adults over 50 include improved immune function, better heart health and blood pressure, better bone density, and better digestive functioning. People who exercise also have a lowered risk of several chronic conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain cancers.

• Exercise enhances mobility, flexibility, and balance in older adults. Exercise improves your strength, flexibility and posture, which in turn will help with balance, coordination, and reducing the risk of falls. Strength training also helps alleviate the symptoms of chronic conditions such as arthritis.

Mental health benefits of exercise and fitness as you age

• Exercise improves your sleep. Poor sleep is not an inevitable consequence of aging and quality sleep is important for your overall health. Exercise often improves sleep, helping you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply.
• Exercise boosts mood and self-confidence. Exercise is a huge stress reliever and the endorphins produced can actually help reduce feelings of sadness, depression, or anxiety. Being active and feeling strong naturally helps you feel more self-confident and sure of yourself.

• Exercise is amazingly good for the brain. Activities like Sudoku or crossword puzzles can help keep your brain active, but little comes close to the beneficial effects of exercise on the brain. Exercise benefits brain functions as diverse as multitasking and creativity and can help prevent memory loss, cognitive decline, and dementia. Exercise may even help slow the progression of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Exercise and fitness as you age: Tips for getting started safely

Committing to a routine of physical activity is one of the healthiest decisions you can make. Before you get moving, though, consider how best to be safe.

• Get medical clearance from your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have a preexisting condition. Ask if there are any activities you should avoid.

• Consider health concerns. Keep in mind how your ongoing health problems affect your workouts. For example, diabetics may need to adjust the timing of medication and meal plans when setting an exercise schedule. Above all, if something feels wrong, such as sharp pain or unusual shortness of breath, simply stop. You may need to scale back or try another activity.

• Start slow. If you haven’t been active in a while, it can be harmful to immediately go “all out.” Instead, build up your exercise program little by little. Try spacing workouts in ten-minute increments twice a day. Or try just one class each week. Prevent injury and discomfort by warming up, cooling down, and keeping water handy.

• Commit to an exercise schedule for at least 3 or 4 weeks so that it becomes habit, and force yourself to stick with it. That will be much easier if you find activities you enjoy.

• Stay motivated by focusing on short-term goals, such as improving your mood and energy levels and reducing stress, rather than goals such as weight loss, which can take longer to achieve.

• Recognize problems. Exercise should never hurt or make you feel lousy. Stop exercising immediately and call your doctor if you feel dizzy or short of breath, develop chest pain or pressure, break out in a cold sweat, or experience pain. Also stop if a joint is red, swollen, or tender to touch. Listen to your body. If you tend to experience pain or discomfort after exercising for a while, try exercising for less time but more frequently throughout the day.

• Experiment with mindfulness. Instead of zoning out when you exercise, try to pay attention to your body. By really focusing on how your body feels as you exercise—the rhythm of your breathing , the way your feet strike the ground, your muscles flexing as you move, for example—you’ll improve your physical condition faster and better help to relieve stress and anxiety.

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