Exercise and Physical Activity: Getting Fit For Life
ďAfter walking on a treadmill at the local community center,
I knew I'd be happier outside. So, I got a step counter and
started walking in my neighborhood. Since
then, I've seen yellow tulips bloom in spring and red dogwood
leaves drop in fall. I always come home with more energy and
happy to go on with the rest of the day.Ē Marian (age 77)
ďBoth my wife and I have heart problems. About 2 years
ago, we joined our local health club, where we do both endurance
and strength training exercises. On the off days, we walk near
our house. Itís been life-saving for us.Ē Bob (age 78)
These older adults are living proof that exercise and physical
activity are good for you, no matter how old you are. In fact,
staying active can help you:
- Keep and improve your strength so you can stay independent.
- Have more energy to do the things you want to do.
- Improve your balance.
- Prevent or delay some diseases like heart disease, diabetes,
- Perk up your mood and help reduce depression.
You donít need to buy special clothes or belong to a gym to
become more active. Physical activity can and should be part
of your everyday life. Find things you like to do. Go for brisk
walks. Ride a bike. Dance. Work around the house. Garden. Climb
stairs. Swim. Rake leaves. Try different kinds of activities
that keep you moving. Look for new ways to build physical activity
into your daily routine.
Four Ways to Be Active
To get all of the benefits of physical activity, try all four
types of exercise Ė 1) endurance, 2) strength, 3) balance, and
- Be sure to get at least 30 minutes of activity that makes
you breathe hard on most or all days of the week. Thatís called
an endurance activity because it builds your
energy or ďstaying power.Ē You donít have to be active for
30 minutes all at once. Ten minutes at a time is fine. Just
make sure you are active for a total of 30 minutes most days.
How hard do you need to push yourself? If you can talk without
any trouble at all, you are not working hard enough. If you
canít talk at all, itís too hard.
- Keep using your muscles. Strength exercises
build muscles. When you have strong muscles, you can get up
from a chair by yourself, you can lift your grandchildren,
and you can walk through the park.
Keeping your muscles in shape helps prevent falls that cause
problems like broken hips. You are less likely to fall when
your leg and hip muscles are strong.
- Do things to help your balance. Try standing
on one foot, then the other. If you can, donít hold on to
anything for support. Get up from a chair without using your
hands or arms. Every now and then walk heel-to-toe. When you
walk this way, the toes of the foot in back should almost
touch the heel of the foot in front.
- Stretch. Stretching can help you be more
flexible. Moving more freely will make it easier for you to
reach down to tie your shoes or look over your shoulder when
you back the car out of your driveway. Stretch when your muscles
are warmed up. Donít stretch so far that it hurts.
Who Should Exercise?
Almost anyone, at any age, can do some type of physical activity.
You can still exercise even if you have a long-term condition
like heart disease or diabetes. In fact, physical activity may
help. For most older adults, brisk walking, riding a bike, swimming,
weight lifting, and gardening, are safe, especially if you build
up slowly. But, check with your doctor if you are over 50 and
you arenít used to energetic activity. You also should check
with your doctor if you have:
- a chronic disease, such as diabetes or heart disease
- any new symptom you havenít discussed with your doctor
- dizziness or shortness of breath
- chest pain or the feeling that your heart is skipping, racing,
- blood clots
- an infection or fever
- unplanned weight loss
- foot or ankle sores that wonít heal
- joint swelling
- a bleeding or detached retina, eye surgery, or laser treatment
- a hernia
- had hip surgery
Here are some things you can do to make sure you are exercising
- Start slowly, especially if you havenít been active for
a long time. Little by little build up your activities and
how hard you work at them.
- Donít hold your breath during strength exercises. That could
cause changes in your blood pressure. It may seem strange
at first, but the rule is to breathe out as you lift something;
breathe in as you relax.
- Use safety equipment. For example, wear a helmet for bike
riding or the right shoes for walking or jogging.
- Unless your doctor has asked you to limit fluids, be sure
to drink plenty when you are doing activities. Many older
adults donít feel thirsty even if their body needs fluids.
- Always bend forward from the hips, not the waist. If you
keep your back straight, youíre probably bending the right
way. If your back ďhumps,Ē thatís probably wrong.
- Warm up your muscles before you stretch. Try walking and
light arm pumping first.
Exercise should not hurt or make you feel really tired. You
might feel some soreness, a little discomfort, or a bit weary,
but you should not feel pain. In fact, in many ways, being active
will probably make you feel better.
How to Find Out More
Local fitness centers or hospitals might be able to help you
find a physical activity program that works for you. You also
can check with nearby religious groups, senior and civic centers,
parks, recreation associations, YMCAs, YWCAs, or even area shopping
malls for exercise, wellness, or walking programs.
Looking for a safe exercise program? Exercise:
A Guide from the National Institute on Aging has strength,
balance, and stretching exercises you can do at home. You can
order the free Guide in English from the NIA Information
Center. A Spanish version is available online at www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation.
NIA also has a 48-minute exercise video/DVD for $7.
Many groups have information about physical activity and exercise
for older adults. The following list of Federal and non-Federal
organizations will help you get started:
of Sports Medicine
P.O. Box 1440
Indianapolis, IN 46206-1440
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30333
ďExercise for SeniorsĒ
"Exercise and Physical Fitness"
Presidentís Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
Room 738-H, Dept. W
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201-0004
For more information on health and aging, contact:
National Institute on Aging Information Center
P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057
To order publications (in English or Spanish) or sign up for
regular email alerts, go to www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation.
Visit NIHSeniorHealth.gov (http://www.nihseniorhealth.gov/),
a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging
and the National Library of Medicine. This website has health
information for older adults, including information about exercise
and physical activity. There are also special features that
make it simple to use. For example, you can click on a button
to have the text read out loud or to make the type larger.