Lifelong well-being

December 2012

It’s never too late to add more activity to your life. In fact, it’s important because moving more benefits both your physical and mental health.

Being active can help you shed pounds and keep them off. It can reduce your risk of many health conditions including heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes. (In fact, diabetics who exercise regularly may be able to reduce the amount of medicine they take.) Breaking a sweat regularly can also raise the level of good cholesterol in your blood, strengthen your bones (which reduces your osteoporosis risk), muscles, and joints. It also improves your balance and flexibility — all of which lowers your chances of taking a fall.

The mental health benefits are huge, too. Regular workouts and a physical lifestyle can boost your energy level and mood (thanks to feel-good chemicals called endorphins), reduce stress and anxiety, and help alleviate depression.

Combine all these benefits and it’s clear that moving more and sitting less helps older adults remain independent longer. And when you can live life fully, it’s also more enjoyable!

Of course, talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program and discuss the best activities for you. (This is even more important if you have a health condition or physical limitations.)

What is the difference between physical activity and exercise?

There are two categories of moving more. The first is living a physically active life. Examples include walking to do errands instead of driving, mowing your lawn, cleaning, climbing stairs, and gardening (like raking and shrub trimming). It also means dancing or playing with your children or grandchildren.

Exercise is also a physical activity, but it’s aimed at making you more fit. Today there are so many choices that you’re bound to find one you like. These include brisk walking, running, bike riding, and playing sports. Then there are traditional gym activities like cardio machines such as the treadmill, elliptical trainer, and stair climber and weight lifting. Group exercise classes are increasingly more popular with new types cropping up all the time. Options include body conditioning, aerobics, water aerobics, group cycling classes, kickboxing, dance-inspired classes, yoga, and much more.

Some activities improve flexibility, some build muscle strength, and some increase endurance, which is your ability to handle more activity longer. To reap all these benefits, vary the activities you choose during the week. These can include:

  • Endurance activities, which improve circulation and the health of your lungs and heart. They raise your breathing and heart rate, keep you fit, and make it easier to do everyday activities.
  • Strength activities, which build strong bones, muscles, and joints by working them against gravity. One example is lifting weights.
  • Balance and stretching activities, which help prevent injuries and falls. Examples include yoga and Tai Chi.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on five or more days per week.

The key with any physical activity is enjoying what you’re doing so you want to keep doing it. And remember exercise does not have to wear you out or cause pain to be good for you.

Keys to success

Regular workouts and a physical lifestyle can boost your energy level and mood.

These tips can help you get started and keep your healthy habits going!

  • Look for chances to add more movement in everything you do. For example, rather than looking for the closest parking spot, find one that’s a bit farther away.
  • Set short and long-term goals. Reward yourself when you reach one.
  • Put activity at the top of your “to do” list and mark it on your calendar.
  • Make the activity convenient and inexpensive.
  • Make it a social event. Do the activity with a friend or your pet. Join a gym or attend a group class.
  • Start slowly and gradually increase to avoid soreness or injury.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and supportive shoes.
  • If you miss a few days of exercise, don’t feel bad about it. Just start again.
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