Senior Exercise (cont.)
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
How do I get started?
There's no need to try and make up for years of inactivity overnight. In fact, you could get injured or quickly become burned out by doing that. Instead, start slowly and build up gradually. If that means starting with just five minutes of walking, then that's what you ought to do. In fact, one of my favorite plans to recommend for getting started is the five-minutes-out, five-minutes-back plan. Just like it sounds, you walk out for five minutes, turn around, and walk back. That's it...10 minutes of walking, and off you go about your day. If you feel ambitious, you can do seven and a half or even 10 minutes out and back, and add some stretching when you finish if you like. One of the best ways to get motivated and stay that way is to set goals. I suggest that you set a weekly exercise plan, starting today for the week coming up. Write down what day(s) of the week, what time of day, minutes of activity, and the activity that you'll do. Be as specific and realistic as possible, and remember that it's not how much you do when you get started but that you simply get started. Keep setting and reviewing your goals weekly for at least three months. That way you'll be sure to stay on track and build exercise into your life as a habit.
What are some exercise options?
For aerobic exercise: Walking, dancing (when's the last time you took a ballroom-dancing class?), biking, and swimming are all good options. You can also try exercise videos. Collage Video is a good resource. They have lots of videos for individuals of all ages (search their site for "seniors"). Also check out your local senior center, rec center, Y, or local fitness center for classes that are appropriate for you. Many centers offer exercise classes for seniors. They're out there if you look.
For resistance exercise: You don't need to pump iron in a gym to do resistance exercise. Of course, if you want to go to the gym, I wouldn't discourage you. But if you prefer to do it at home, you can. I recommend exercise tubing if you're looking for a simple but effective way to do resistance exercise at home. Exercise tubing is inexpensive and versatile (you can do lots of very different exercises with them) and a great way to get started with resistance exercise. You can start with a set of four for about $20. They come in colors to denote the tension. If you order them, make sure to order the strap that allows you to attach the tube to a door, and if you want to work your legs, ask for leg straps. Here are some vendors that sell them:
If you don't get around very well and prefer to exercise sitting down, try exercise videos in a chair. Collage Video and Armchair Fitness are two good resources.
For flexibility exercise: There are lots of good resources for stretching exercises.
For balance exercise: Do some or all of these exercises every day for best results. Have someone standing nearby to support you if you are concerned you might fall, especially for the ones where I suggest closing your eyes, since this is the most challenging. Speak with your doctor before doing these exercises if you have a balance disturbance or are concerned about whether it is safe for you to do them.
Go for it!
I don't think anyone can argue with the ideas that exercise is good for you, no matter what your age, and importantly, it's never too late to start. I started this article with a quote and would like to finish with one as well. It's by Dr. George Sheehan. Dr. Sheehan was a cardiologist, who, in the 1970s, at the age of 45, decided to turn around his health and his life. He caught the running bug and started to train, compete, and run marathons. He quickly became an expert on the subject and started writing weekly fitness columns in local newspapers. He was medical editor for Runner's World magazine for 25 years; he counseled his patients on the virtues of exercise; and he lectured internationally. He wrote eight books about running, fitness, and health, and he played a key role in promoting the running boom of the 1970s. He was philosophical about winning, losing, suffering, meditation, training, and working through pain, and he would quote the likes of William James for inspiration. In 1986, Dr. Sheehan was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread to his bones by the time he was diagnosed. He hung on courageously for seven more years, running and competing up until the end of his life. He died in 1993, just four days short of his 75th birthday. Dr. Sheehan had the following to say about his experience with running and with life. "No matter how old I get, the race remains one of life's most rewarding experiences. My times become slower and slower, but the experience of the race is unchanged: each race a drama, each race a challenge, each race stretching me in one way or another, and each race telling me more about myself and others."
Of course, you don't need to be a marathoner like Dr. Sheehan to experience the joy and satisfaction of exercise. Just getting started will do it. Go ahead and give it your best shot. You deserve it.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/24/2014