A lot of smart people have said it: Albert Einstein. Aristotle. William Faulkner. Wallace Stevens even chose those three words to title a poem—“Life is Motion.”
For those of us actively engaged in the process of aging, perhaps the National Institute on Aging said it most relevantly: “Being physically active is one of the best things you can do for your health.”
Defining what “physically active” means is key. Your physical activity may be riding a bike, swimming laps or jogging vigorously, but someone else’s might be simply getting up and moving about a room with regularity or tightening abdominal muscles for 30 seconds as they sit. Whatever the level of activity, here’s the quote we all need to remember, this one from Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
Some physical activity is better than none. Start slowly and build up. Reduce the amount of time you spend in your chair each day. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of physical activity a week. That’s 30 minutes a day, five days a week. For light activity, such as stretches or leg raises, hold for three breaths and repeat 10 times. It’s totally doable.
What’s in it for you?
Those 30-minute sessions are priceless—and no need to go to a gym to get results and benefits.
1) Exercise is one of the best ways for older adults to maintain independence. A Harvard Medical School blog says regular exercise promotes an older adult’s ability to walk, bathe, cook, sit, dress and more.
2) Exercise improves balance—especially important to older adults since we’re more likely to fall. Regular exercise can reduce the risk of falling by 23%.
3) Exercise increases energy. You might think it would make you more tired, but being active gives you energy.
4) It helps reduce the risk of certain diseases and ailments that come with age: high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes.
5) Exercise promotes a sense of well-being. Even a little promotes the release of endorphins, to improve mood and ward off depression.
6) It improves brain function. The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation says regular exercise may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia by up to 50%!
7) It helps muscles grow stronger so you can continue your day-to-day activities as you age.
8) Exercise helps build stronger bones. We lose bone mass with age; weaker bones are less able to handle weight and impacts.
9) It reduces stiffness and can help increase mobility. (Stationary cycling is one of the best mobility exercises for the elderly, without the risk of actual biking.)
10) Exercise helps strengthen your immune system. You can more easily, more quickly, overcome infections and viruses, as well as recover from illness or injury.
First, do no harm
Check with your doctor if you’re over 50 and not used to exercising. Confirm that it’s safe for you to exercise, ask about physical limitations and get suggestions for what kind of exercise might help you most.
Start slow and warm up. Do not exercise if dizzy, short of breath, nauseated, or have had recent surgery.
Drink water. If you’re even moderately exercising, drink water before, during and after (the sweat process doesn’t always work as well in older adults).
Wear appropriate clothes—loose, comfortable clothing and sturdy shoes with good arch support. Choose shoes designed for your purpose, ones with good balance or ones that absorb shock. If you’re walking, get walking shoes.
Don’t stop now
If you’re now considering moving around more, exercising a bit more, then consider these ways to stay motivated:
- Make it fun. Do things you already enjoy; just pick up the pace.
- Don’t repeat the same exercises every day. Variety keeps you interested.
- Exercise during a convenient time of day. Combine it with a household chore. If you can’t do 30 minutes, do three ten-minute sessions.
- Get an exercise buddy. Make exercising a social action.
- Measure your successes and reward yourself. Buy something you’d enjoy, get a massage.
- “Exercise is life in motion. Move to live.” Toni Sorenson