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Fit for the Ages

Why exercise is important

According to the Administration on Aging (AOA), exercise is important because a well-conditioned body can repair itself more easily and perform more efficiently. Consistent physical exercise can also slow the loss of muscle mass, strengthen bones and joints, and improve balance and mobility. 

Exercise helps the bones in your joints and spinal column rebuild and repair themselves, says the AOA. If you don't exercise, these bones tend to become thin and porous, a condition known as osteoporosis.

Without exercise, fat replaces muscle and muscles become smaller and weaker. You also gain weight. Added weight puts more stress on the heart and lungs, as well as your joints.

When you exercise, however, you reduce fat tissue and build muscle and bone. Muscle is heavier than fat but takes up half the space, so you can actually reduce your body measurements without losing weight. Strong muscles help to protect your joints and spinal column, improve your posture and balance, increase your mobility, reduce the likelihood of falls and other accidents, and give you a younger body image, says the AOA.

Tips for the senior workout

Before you start exercising, talk with your doctor about your routine and intensity. You often can exercise even if you have physical limitations. People with arthritis, for instance, can swim to avoid stress on painful joints.

It's important to incorporate three types of exercise into your workouts: aerobic exercise for endurance, weight training for strength, and stretching for flexibility.

Aerobic exercise keeps your heart and lungs healthy and strengthens your bones and muscles. You should strive to walk or do other moderate aerobic exercise for 30 minutes to an hour every day. Keep a pace that makes you breathe a little harder and work up a mild sweat.

To play it safe, pass up exercising in hot, humid weather. Don't exercise for at least two hours after eating. Watch for these warning signs of overexertion: inability to talk, dizziness, nausea, or pains in the chest, upper back or left shoulder or arm. Call your doctor immediately if you have any of these.

Weight training improves the strength of your ligaments and tendons. You can do strength training with barbells or dumbbells, or with special weight equipment found at a health club. You should do weight training for at least 20 minutes three times a week.

Stretching, along with calisthenics and isometric exercises, boosts muscle strength, endurance and flexibility, as well as makes your heart and lungs fit. To add stretching to your routine, take a ballet, modern dance, or aerobic dance class.

Consider these tips from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:

  • Always wear the right safety gear. If you bike, for example, wear a helmet.

  • Wear the right shoes for each sport.

  • Warm up before you work out. For instance, walk at your normal pace while emphasizing arm movements.

  • Never add to your program (distance walking or weight lifted, for instance) by more than 10 percent a week.

  • Make sure you drink enough water. You can be dehydrated without feeling thirsty.

  • Vary your routine. Mixing tennis and weight lifting, for example, offers different workouts and keeps exercise interesting.

  • Read instructions carefully when you use exercise equipment. If you need advice, seek out a qualified person. Make sure the gear is in good working order.