We live in an aging world. With a U.S. life expectancy of 77.9 years and medical costs steadily increasing, it has become more important than ever to plan for a healthy future. It is an opportune time to consider new definitions of “healthy aging,” including rethinking what older adults do for physical fitness.
“There are many trends occurring in older adult fitness; however, probably the most significant one is the repackaging of exercise as a disease solution,” says Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging. Viewing exercise as medicine, as a tool to not only manage but also to prevent the health issues elders face, is becoming a popular way to promote regular exercise.
In communities across the country, there is also a prominent trend toward broader and deeper approaches to wellness. Seniors are continually planning What’s Next. What classes will I take? What new activities do I want to try? What will improve my wellness? Physical wellness requires that you take responsibility to protect your physical health by eating well, getting plenty of exercise, maintaining a proper weight, getting enough sleep, restricting intake of harmful substances and accessing appropriate health care.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to see if you are engaged in the process of physical wellness.
- Do I know important health numbers, like my cholesterol, weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels?
- Do I get an annual physical exams?
- Do I avoid using tobacco products?
- Do I get a sufficient amount of sleep?
- Do I have an established exercise routine and participate in physical activities throughout the year?
Most fitness programs now suggest that older adults should participate in an exercise program — approved by their physician — that incorporates aerobic activity, muscle strengthening, balance and flexibility activities. Sedentary chair exercises are a thing of the past. Group fitness classes as well as technology ranging from simple pedometers to state-of-the-art computerized gaming systems seems to be inspiring many of the new senior activities.
The U.S. Surgeon General, the American College of Sports Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommend that older adults perform at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking or swimming, on most days of the week. New research shows there is a therapeutic effect in moderate-intensity endurance exercise in as little as 10 minutes increments. So spreading out exercise to 3, ten minute sessions may make it easier for many to achieve their goals.
Here are four easy steps to get started:
- Obtain medical clearance from your doctor and then work with a professional to establish an exercise program to achieve your fitness goals.
- Set a goal for your fitness results. You might aim to participate in the Maine senior games, run your first 5k road race, or simply remain functional and independent in your own home. Having a purpose for exercising and finding enjoyable fitness activities makes it easier for you to make exercising a habit.
- Get a friend, family member, or hired companion to work out with you. It’s a good way to keep your motivation and increase your socialization.
- Vary your routine, update your goals and stick with it! Fitness is for life.
Successful aging defies chronological digits. Its never too early, or too late, to begin making the changes that can prolong, and improve the quality of your life. — Rhiannon Thomas, Ph.D.
As you start to transition from winter to spring, I hope you’re planning What’s Next for your fitness goals.
Bethany Lawrence is a registered nurse, a certified geriatric case manager and founder of the Portland-based business Aging Excellence. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org