By Aryn Lloyd, ACE Certified Health Coach, Rock Valley Physical Therapy
As we age, one thing we don’t often say is “I feel better this year than I did last year.” The truth is, your 50+ age body isn’t the same as your 20 or 30 year-old body.
The idea of “thriving and aging” can be directly linked to your level of independence, mobility, how well you can do everyday tasks.
The good news is exercise can help improve all these things we long for as we age!
Whether you are a Baby Boomer or just entering your midlife, “fitness after 50” is something to adopt now more than ever.
While exercise is important at all stages of life, our risk factors often increase after age 45 for many preventable diseases like diabetes, heart disease, elevated blood pressure.
As we age, we may become more resistant to insulin or have decreased insulin production, our blood vessels lose elasticity, or long term effects of elevated cholesterol and weight may begin to show.
Exercise combats and improves many of these risk factors by making our heart and lungs stronger and more efficient and help us stay at a healthy weight.
Exercise is medicine!
Adopting a physical activity routine during our midlife is like keeping your car well maintained so you can extend its life expectancy.
Research has shown that being physically active for 150 minutes per week can dramatically decrease your disease risk and improve your activities of daily living without as many limitations.
Whatever age and stage of the wellness spectrum you fall into, take these steps to help you combat age related ailments so you can do the things that are important to you even as you age.
Muscle: You lose muscle as you age. Exercise helps rebuild and maintain muscle mass. In addition, your metabolism decreases as you age.
The more muscle you build the more you increase your metabolism and offset age-related decreases.
Exercise Rx for muscle: Strength-training with machines, body weight, resistance bands and if good balance and form free weights can be used.
Focus on proper technique and range of motion. Work upper body, lower body, and core.
Swimming can provide some resistance when working against water as well as walking up a hill or stairs.
Focus on muscle groups you use for everyday tasks like lifting groceries, picking up grandchildren, and getting in and out of a car.
Endurance: With age, we tend to lose stamina and energy. The more you work to build up your endurance during your exercise sessions, the better you will be able to withstand your everyday tasks.
Do you want to travel and have the stamina to walk and do more by foot? Do you want to be able to play comfortably with children or grandchildren? Maybe you just want to feel and breathe better overall.
Including 150 minutes per week of moderate level endurance types of exercise can help you!
Exercise Rx for endurance: Take a brisk walk for 20-30 min at least 5 days a week. Can’t do 30? Try and to break it up into 10 minute bouts and increase from there.
Cycling and swimming can improve endurance without the stress of body weight and impact on joints.
If you walk or jog, seek out soft surfaces like grass or a track.
Other fun endurance exercises are dancing, Zumba, Jazzercise, and racquet sports like tennis, pickleball, or badminton. These are great options to be social as well … and there’s even a Quad Cities Pickleball Club!
Balance: One of the leading causes of injury and setbacks for older adults is falling.
While it may not be something we think about often, our physical changes as we age, health conditions, and medications can impair our balance.
Being physically active can help combat fall risk in addition to understanding your health conditions, medication side effects, and proper footwear.
Exercise Rx for Balance: Walk to improve ankle and leg strength and stability.
Explore water activities, yoga, tai chi or graceful dance moves. Check your footwear and make sure you have proper shoes for stability while being active.
Flexibility: Being more flexible is defined by the range of motion around your joints. How flexible you are is determined by the health of your tendons, ligaments, and muscles that surround your joints.
Arthritis and osteoporosis are both age-related health conditions that affect flexibility and mobility. As we age, cartilage decreases, especially around the hips and knees, and our tissues thicken which can make being flexible more difficult.
Flexibility exercises can aid in increased blood flow and decreased injury and pain. Many flexibility exercises can be done in the comfort of your own home!
Exercise Rx for Flexibility: An exercise class or personal trainer can be a great way to learn proper stretching techniques.
Try stretching the body parts you use for your everyday tasks like getting down and up from the floor, side to side neck stretches, bending over, legs and back stretches by lying on a mat or soft floor.
Yoga exercises and classes are great for blood flow and stretching all muscle groups.
Other Age-Related Considerations
Hormonal changes are also common as we age, and the side effects can often cause mood changes and lack of energy.
Exercises like walking, cycling, swimming, yoga, tai chi, and social activities can all improve mood and stamina levels.
If you are retired or kids are out of the house, you may find you have more time on your calendar. Incorporating physical activity may not be something you think of writing on your calendar but is a great way to stay accountable!
Looking to get started? The National Institute on Aging at NIH has some great free tools with their Go4Life campaign. #Fit4Function
Use My starting point assessment to find ways to help increase your physical activity.
Utilize their Goal Setting worksheet to create SMART short and long term physical activity goals.
Write down your own Weekly Physical Activity Plan.
Reassess your progress monthly with the Monthly Progress Assessment.
If there is a secret to aging and being fit, I would tell you exercise is your magic bullet!