Your kids are out on their own. Your home and life are yours again. Maybe you are even retired. It is time to enjoy the good life—travel, grandchildren, hobbies. But, the good life can only be yours if your body is up to it. This is where exercise comes in.

Fitness is simply a matter of "use it or lose it." By using your muscles (including your heart muscle), you make these muscles stronger and more efficient. Much of the frailty that accompanies old age is due to lack of use. But even if you have not stayed physically active over the years, you can still get your body working smoothly again.

Warding Off Disease and Welcoming an Active Life

In addition to keeping your motor running and your body ready for action, exercise helps ward off a number of diseases common in old age. Exercise can help to prevent:

In addition, exercise helps manage arthritis pain, blood sugar levels, and the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause. Weight-bearing exercise helps to build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis. Finally, exercise can relieve two common complaints among older people: insomnia and constipation.

Learning About Good Exercises

A good exercise program for older people includes aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching exercises. If you are new to exercise, you will need to start slow and build up to the recommendations listed below. And do not forget to warm up with slow rhythmic activities, such as walking or jogging in place, before each exercise session. Once you start to break a light sweat, do some stretching exercises and then you will be ready to start aerobic or strength training exercises.

Stretching Exercises

Stretching exercises are essential for keeping your muscles flexible and your joints strong with a good range of motion. You can do stretching exercises everyday.

Good stretching exercises for older people include:

  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • A stretching program recommend by your doctor or a qualified trainer

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and burns calories. Low-impact aerobic exercises are best for older people because they put less strain on the joints. Try to aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 times per week. You may have to start with just 5-10 minutes at first. Low-impact aerobic exercises include:

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Bicycling
  • Rowing
  • Dancing
  • Low-impact aerobics classes

Strength Training

Strengthening your muscles will help you maintain balance and reduce your risk of falling. In addition, strength training strengthens your bones and reduces your risk of fractures and osteoporosis. Try to do strength training exercises 2 times per week. And do not do them on consecutive days because your muscles need rest between strength training sessions. Take a strength training class or work with a qualified athletic trainer to learn an appropriate strength training routine and proper form. Try to work to 8-10 strength exercises twice a week, doing 8-12 repititions of each exercise.

Strength training exercises include:

  • Calisthenics, such as push-ups, sit-ups, and chin-ups
  • Weight lifting, using:
    • Free weights
    • Weight machines
    • Elastic tubing (ie, resistance bands)

Getting Started

Before you start an exercise program, it is best to talk to your doctor. Depending on your health, she may have some recommendations or restrictions.

If you are new to exercise, it is best to either take a class at your local gym or make an appointment with a qualified athletic trainer who can show you the proper way to do each exercise. Gyms and health clubs offer a wide array of classes, such as yoga, Tai chi, water aerobics, strength training, and low-impact aerobics. And some of these classes are specially designed for older people.

Enjoying Yourself

After safety, the most important element in your exercise program is enjoyment. Choose activities you enjoy so you will keep on doing them. For instance, sign up for a yoga class or a line dancing class with a friend. Or take a daily walk with a family member. And be creative. Schedule a weekly golf or tennis game. If you are still working, take a walk at lunchtime. If you have errands to do close to home, walk or ride your bicycle there and back. Shoot for doing at least one type of exercise on most days of the week.