It’s Never Too Late! Start Exercising Now!
Perhaps you just celebrated a major birthday. If you turned, 50, 60, 70, older, or anywhere in between, you may be wondering if you can still start exercising.
The answer, in almost all cases, is yes!
Exercise is protective against a variety of diseases and ailments. Plus, it helps to improve mental health and cognition. Truthfully, there are very few reasons why a person shouldn’t exercise.
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Why Is Exercise Important for Older Adults?
If the benefits of exercise could be encapsulated in a pill, we would have empty hospitals across the U.S.
While there are tons of different benefits that come from exercise, some of the major ones are as follows.
- Improved heart health.
- Better lung health.
- Decreased risk of certain kinds of cancer.
- Improved cognition.
- Happier mood.
- Stronger muscles and bones.
Of course, health issues may be present throughout all stages of life. However, they can be much more devastating for an older adult. Therefore, incorporating some form of exercise into your life is critical, no matter how old you are.
Starting Exercise Later in Life
If you’ve lived most of your life without exercising, it can be hard to make the switch.
However, it’s important to point out that “exercise” doesn’t necessarily mean sweating it out in the gym.
In fact, you can achieve the minimum requirements for exercise by participating in many different activities.
For example, hiking, biking, playing tennis, golfing, and other activities can all be considered exercise.
All you need to do, in order to meet the minimum exercise requirements, is to complete 150 minutes of cardio per week. Therefore, a weekly plan such as this would meet your cardio requirements:
- A 3-set tennis match.
- A short hike.
- A leisurely bike ride.
Special Considerations for Exercise Later in Life
As was hinted at earlier, many older adults will experience health problems at higher rates than younger people. In this section, we’ll review some of the common issues that older adults experience.
These ailments need to be considered when these individuals initiate an exercise program.
Osteopenia is a weakening of the bones. Once this weakening has reached a certain cut-off point, the patient is diagnosed with osteoporosis.
An osteoporosis diagnosis means that the person is at high risk of fracture. In fact, even sneezing can lead to a fracture in a person with osteoporosis.
For this reason, special care needs to be taken when recommending exercise for this population. There are a few different movements and types of exercise that should be avoided by people who have weakened bones.
- High-impact exercise. This is particularly risky for those with bone disease. Jumping, jogging, and other high-impact activities should largely be avoided by this population.
- Significant twisting and rotational exercise. Rotation puts high amounts of stress on the spine and other joints. Osteoporotic individuals should be very careful when participating in exercises that include rotational movements.
- Heavy lifts. If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia, heavy lifts should only be performed with the close supervision of a qualified professional. These moves put weakened bones at high risk.
Vascular and heart disease become much more common as people get older. One of the most common heart-related issues seen in the older population is high blood pressure.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a tricky condition, as it usually can’t be detected without having your blood pressure measured. Luckily, most medical professionals routinely take blood pressure measurements during office visits.
In the short term, hypertension isn’t much of an issue. However, it places strain on the heart. Therefore, over many months or years, hypertension can lead to a higher incidence of strokes, heart attacks, and other issues.
Older adults with hypertension who are starting a new exercise program should consider working with a trainer.
Personal trainers are knowledgeable about the body and are well-versed in how to deal with people who have high blood pressure.
These experts will advise you on how long to rest and how hard to push yourself based on your response to exercise. You should never take any chances when it comes to your heart health!
There are many different types of arthritis. However, the most common form, by far, is osteoarthritis (OA). This condition develops due to wear and tear on the joints.
As you might expect, older adults are at higher risk for OA. This is because they have had many years of high-stress activities which have put strain on their joints.
If you have arthritis, you should be careful when you begin an exercise program. For the most part, the same recommendations apply to those with osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
These individuals should avoid high-impact exercise, movements that cause joint pain, and heavy weightbearing lifts.
When to See Your Doctor
If you’re starting exercise later in life, it’s a good idea to keep your doctor in the loop. Your physician can make recommendations on types of exercise to avoid, ways to manage medication, and other areas of your new pursuit.
Your doctor is there to help you. They want you to get in shape through exercise and healthy lifestyle choices.
Therefore, if you’re going to start exercising as an older adult, see your doctor for a checkup!
Populations that Should Avoid Exercise Later in Life
Almost everyone can participate in some form of exercise. Admittedly, there are some extremely rare conditions in which exercise of any kind makes a person’s health worse over the lifespan. However, most contraindications to exercise are temporary.
For example, someone who had open heart surgery would likely not be encouraged to exercise the day after the procedure.
After a few days or weeks, however, these post-surgical individuals can participate in the guided, progressive exercise.
Exercise Plan for Older Adults: Example
In this section, I’ll lay out a sample exercise plan for older individuals. This should not be considered a “one-size-fits-all” plan. Rather, this is just an example that you can use as a template to create your own exercise program.
During the week, you could perform resistance training on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
On each of these days, you can complete sit-to-stands, wall pushups, and rows with a dumbbell or weighted object. Perform 10 reps and three sets of each exercise with as much rest in between as you need.
To achieve your minimum cardio, you could go for a moderate-intensity walk 5 days a week, for 30 minutes each time. You can pick whichever days of the week you’d like!
Ideally, you’d perform flexibility and mobility exercises every day. However, you should aim to at least complete 3 days a week of mobility work.
Specifically, you could perform a double hamstring stretch in seated, a piriformis stretch on your back, and a cat-cow stretch each session.
This routine could be completed 3-7 times per week. You should hold each stretch for 30 seconds completing 4 reps of each stretch.
Progressing the Program
The above sample workout provides a nice way to maintain your fitness and to improve your health. However, it’s a good idea to progress your program over time.
You can do this by slowly increasing your reps, increasing your time spent exercising, and/or increasing your intensity. Basically, just do a little bit more than your previous session, each time!
You Can Do It!
If you’re nervous about starting to exercise later in life, you’re not alone. It can be scary to begin exercising as an older adult. You may be worried about looking silly in the gym or a whole host of other things.
However, you should know that no one is judging you. Everyone is working out to improve their own health and performance, just like you!
If you need help in your exercise journey, there are many personal trainers who are ready and willing to assist you today!
- Langhammer, B., Bergland, A., & Rydwik, E. (2018). The Importance of Physical Activity Exercise among Older People. BioMed research international, 2018, 7856823. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/7856823
- Mandolessi, L. (2018). Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits. Frontiers in Psychology, 2018, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509