Every health care provider in the free world promotes staying active as a secret to staying healthy. We’ve all heard the slogans designed to motivate us, such as “move it or lose it” and “no pain, no gain.”
Regular exercise, it sometimes seems, is the active equivalent to sipping from the fountain of youth. While you may thirst for the vitality of past years, however, there are things you should think about if you are a senior and just beginning an exercise plan.
First off, if you have not been active for a while, start very slowly. It will still have an impact but won’t overstrain your body. And talk to your doctor before venturing out on your own, especially if you have had any cardiac issues or joint replacement. Trust me, making big plans to get fit is a lot easier on the muscles than the actual getting fit part. And nothing will slow you down and zap your motivation like an injury.
So that said, a short walk, while wearing good, supportive shoes, would be a great start. Or riding a stationery bike provides a heart-healthy but low-impact activity.
Exercising with weights is an extremely good way to gain muscle mass and build strength, which tends to decline as we age. But before you head to a store to buy dumbbells, get some professional help. Schedule some time with a personal trainer from a reputable gym or a physical therapist who can put you through the paces. Again, talk to your health care provider about your fitness goals.
The National Institute on Aging has some advice for preventing injuries for older, sedentary adults who are stepping — or pedaling — into the land of physical fitness.
• Wear comfortable and loose fitting clothes and supportive shoes. Be sure the pant legs are short enough so that you don’t trip on them while walking briskly and if the shoes are new, wear them around the house to get used to them before hitting the streets.
• Prepare your body for a workout by warming up gently with low-intensity exercises. And stay hydrated by drinking water before, during and after exercise.
• If you are walking or biking outside, pay close attention to traffic, the weather — especially if it’s hot — and be extremely mindful of walking on uneven surfaces. Taking a cane can help you with balance in these situations.
As good as exercise can feel, stop immediately and call your doctor if you have pain or pressure in your chest, neck, shoulder or arm, if you feel dizzy or nauseated or break out in a cold sweat, or if you experience muscle cramps or severe pain in joints, feet, ankles or legs. These symptoms are not normal and should be addressed. And take a cellphone with you just in case.
While getting regular exercise isn’t like taking a trip back to your youth in a time machine, it can help you feel better and slow the aging process.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.