As age progresses, health issues become an increasing concern. To offset concerns, individuals, over the age of fifty-five, have become increasingly active. By doing so, older adults experience improvement in strength, balance, flexibility and endurance. Additionally, physical fitness can result in a reduction in high blood pressure, decreased risks of heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes, improved sleep and longevity and even relieve pain associated with arthritis. Other benefits, associated with exercise, may include reducing or delaying disability, improving cholesterol levels and controlling weight. All of these benefits are found through a basic exercise program which may include resistance training, aerobic exercise or flexibility programs such as Tai Chi.
Resistance Training is a very basic exercise program which involves simple weight lifting over several days with increasing amounts of weight over a period of time. By increasing the resistance, progressively over several days, resistance training aides in preventing falls and hip fractures by improving strength, balance and bone mass. In other words, resistance training will increase muscle strength and reduce muscle atrophy and bone loss. A basic program may include resistance rubber bands, free weights or weight machines. A program with as little as two sessions, twenty to thirty minutes in duration, over one week, can provide significant benefits.
Aerobic exercise has long been considered the most basic element of fitness as it promotes oxygen delivery through every cell in the body. By doing so, the body, more efficiently, eliminates waste products. It is through the cardiovascular function that benefits are seen including strengthening of all muscles including cardiovascular muscle, improved respiration, improved concentration and alertness and control over weight. Cardiovascular activity includes all of the basic fitness programs including jumping rope, jogging, walking, swimming and dancing. However, it can also include a program in which you simply increase the vigor and speed of your steps while performing daily living activities. Aerobic exercise, certainly, does not require that you be fit to run a marathon.
Another fitness program older adults frequently participate in is an ancient program, Tai Chi. Originally developed in China, Tai Chi has become increasingly popular in the United States. With the use of slow, interrupted movements called “forms”, the development of internal energy is promoted. Each form is believed to be inspired by nature, and involves very relaxed circular motions, with shifts in body weight and very little foot movement. One Tai Chi session takes approximately eight minutes and should be completed daily. The calming effect of Tai Chi promotes meditation and internal calmness. One great benefit: It can be done with shoes or in bare feet!
As with any fitness program, first consult your physician before beginning. Once beginning a fitness program, be sure to focus on your body’s internal signals. Should you experience an onset of pain, dizziness or fatigue, discontinue the work out immediately. Always remember to warm up or “stretch” prior to beginning your program, drink plenty of water before, during and after your work out and avoid exercise during hot periods of the day. Remember to begin slowly and progressively increase your activity as you feel comfortable.
Whether you choose resistance training, aerobic exercise or Tai Chi, a step toward some sort of fitness program is the best decision you can make in terms of your health. In fact, the risks associated with no exercise are far greater than any risk you may encounter while participating in a fitness program. No matter what your age, fitness can be started. Older adults who began running after reaching age 60 have been known to later run marathons at the age of seventy or eighty. While not everyone will reach such exercise levels, it is important to begin even a very basic, simple program. Consistency is the primary factor. And remember, exercise does not discriminate based on age and will improve your overall health and increase your longevity. Visit your local fitness center, senior center or hospital for information on fitness programs in your area.