Let’s face it: we’re not getting any younger. But modern thinking is that age is not only the number of times we’ve traveled on the planet around the sun, but the by-product of a youthful mindset, nutritious diet, and healthy physical habits.
Exercise is one physical habit best cultivated in youth and preserved into older age. But almost everyone, regardless of current fitness level, can add exercise to their daily or certainly weekly routine. A simple online search reveals a multitude of free online resources available to guide physical fitness newcomers and inspire the veterans with new routines or programs.
Fitness trainers recognize four types of physical activity: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. It’s important to include each of these broad categories of exercise to get the most out of your health improvement efforts. Someone who only lifts weights will become quite strong, but adding cycling as a regular activity would also build endurance for that person.
Not surprisingly, many individual activities cross-train, meaning they have characteristics of more than one fitness type. Yoga builds flexibility, strength, and balance.
Endurance exercises are also termed aerobic. Anything that elevates the heart rate (beats per minute) for a sustained period of time forces oxygen-rich blood into the body’s lungs and extremities, actually creating new capillaries that process more oxygen more efficiently. A little bit of endurance training goes a long way when it comes to counteracting aging. A May 2017 study showed that walking 30 minutes a day four days a week for 12 weeks improved brain function in mild cognitive impairment (MCI), an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), in a test group of sixteen healthy elders aged 60-88.
Other studies have shown that as little as 20 minutes per activity session is enough. Still, other exercise scientists peg the number higher, from 45 minutes to a full hour per workout.
My advice is: don’t get hung up on the numbers. Something is better than nothing. If you already aren’t getting enough exercise, why add guilt or feelings of inadequacy to that? Just do your best and get right back up on that exercise horse if you fall off.
Furthermore, who says aerobic exercise has to be limited to running around a track, climbing never-ending fake stairs, or pretending to ski on an elliptical machine while watching old television reruns at the gym? One of my favorite things to say is: “Get up and dance!” Dancing is terrific for raising the heartbeat. Once you get into it, you don’t want to stop. Ever watch kids collapse, panting, after running, dancing, or playing around a while? This is the effect we’re going for.
Raising the heart rate for 10-15 minutes several times a day can be especially beneficial for people who don’t have longer periods available.
Strength exercises target the muscles rather than the lungs and circulatory system. Workout routines often divide the body into an upper and a lower region. The arms and chest may be isolated from the legs and buttocks. Certain physical postures build multiple muscle groups. For example, the plank position (used to start and end a push-up) not only strengthens the arms, but the chest and legs as well.
There are so many advantages to maintaining physical strength into older age. Everyday, simple activities like using stairs or grocery shopping become very challenging for those with weak muscles.
Again, doing some strength training is far better than doing none at all. The good news is that you don’t need an expensive gym membership to toughen up. For weight lifting, substitute soup cans for dumbbells or buy affordable used ones at a thrift shop or a garage sale.
Alternatively, don’t use any weights at all. Clear a space to do stomach crunches and those lovely push-ups.
Balance exercises work on both muscles and mind to help you stay on your feet. Did you know that the National Council on Aging (NCOA) says that falls are the most common fatal or non-fatal injury among older Americans?
Improve the odds against falling down and the inconvenience and expense of an unintended injury by adding a few balance exercises to your regime. Walk around with a book on top of your head, do some Tai Chi, or stand on one foot.
Again, an online search for balance exercises produces plenty of engaging suggestions. Be creative and have fun!
Flexibility exercises are often featured in workout program warm-ups and cool-downs. Stretching out the muscles tones the entire body and keeps you supple and limber. Yoga instructor Maya Fiennes says:
“Youth is measured by the flexibility of the spine. To stay young, stay flexible.”
Understand that you don’t have to assume the pretzel position to achieve increased flexibility. Can’t touch your toes, either standing or sitting? There’s a good place to start. Do two sets of 10 repetitions a couple of times a day and your range of motion – how far you can reach – will almost certainly improve.
Any kind of stretching improves flexibility so reach for the sky, bend over with arms raised like a tree blowing in the wind, do a set of sideways lunges, and remember the toe touches. Yoga twists are incredibly beneficial if you are up to them.
Age better with a comprehensive exercise program that develops endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. After all, if you’re going to stick around a bit longer, why not seek the physical and mental health to truly enjoy it?