Trying to maintain an active lifestyle is a challenge for all us. In the “older adult” population, the challenge can be magnified because of physical changes that occur naturally with time. As we age, metabolic rate, bone mass, and muscle mass decrease. These changes can lead to health conditions like osteoporosis or arthritis. One of the best ways to offset these effects is exercise.
Regular exercise can improve sleep patterns, flexibility, strength, and balance which could decrease the risk of falls, as well as minimize the symptoms of joint disease. It also jumpstarts your metabolism which could help with weight management. As a physical therapist, I often see the harmful effects of not staying active. Patients often ask: 1. what can I do? 2. where do I begin?
The first rule is safety – always talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program. Once you’ve had that conversation, there are some simple but effective exercises that can get you started.
All exercise sessions should have three elements; the warm-up, the workout and the cool-down. An effective warm-up can be as simple as a light walk that will prepare your body for the activity. During your workout, don’t push yourself too hard. Listen to what your body is telling you and gradually build up to performing multiple exercises or repetitions. Finally, always end each session with a cool down like static stretches.
A walking program is a great way to improve your cardiovascular fitness. Whether you find a track or walk in the mall, I often tell patients to use the “talk test” to gauge your intensity. Meaning, if you can sing and talk as you are walking, you are working at a low intensity. If you can talk, but not sing when you are walking, then you are working at a moderate intensity. If you cannot talk when you are walking, then you are working at a high intensity. For any walking program, you want to maintain a moderate level of intensity. Remember to start slow and work your way up to 20-30 minutes.
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