Yes, we need to exercise(!) Yes, it’s shown to help prevent/delay Alzheimer’s, strokes, heart attacks, and pretty much any other body ill except, maybe, toe fungus. Yes, people who moved to 10,000 steps a day were found 46% less likely to die in the next 10 years than those who stay sedentary.
But… what does that mean for your body and your health? There are 80-year-olds running marathons. And others who can’t walk across the room. So what’s possible — and what’s reasonable to expect?
What kind of exercise is most valuable as we age?
The best exercise program is ALWAYS one we will stick with. Programs don’t do us any good if they’re only on paper or in our heads.
Beyond that, Silver Sneakers recommends we “focus on workouts designed to help you build strength, stay mobile, and improve balance.”
- Strength: If you haven’t checked recently, you will be shocked at how quickly we can lose strength. I do 4 different arm exercises every couple of days with weights — so I felt pretty smug about arm strength. Then a friend challenged me to push-ups and I was shocked to discover I could barely do five. So that’s now been added to my program(!)
- Mobility: Use it or lose it — if you don’t get out and about and moving, then pretty soon you won’t be able to. Sink into that couch and you’re setting yourself up for not being able to pee when you want. You’ll have to wait on the convenience of a caregiver to walk you into the bathroom.
- Balance: This was never a problem in our youth, but it can become a big one as we age. Give yourself a test right now. How long can you stand on one leg without any support? Balance is critical in preventing falls — and a fall is one of the worst things that can happen to an otherwise healthy senior. A broken leg is often the start of the end as the long heal time causes our other muscles to waste away, we gain weight, and — often — we die within a year. How do you protect yourself? You can stand on one leg at a time and, for an advanced move, swing your other leg. This can be done while watching TV. Tai Chi also works well (and isn’t as boring!). Find a set of movements you like that include you being on one leg at a time.
Respect your body’s weaknesses(!)
You probably won’t reach 60 without some body part that no longer reacts as it did when you were young. The question is how well can you compensate for it?
Knees are a particular problem — they are a likely weakness as we age and they are used in the most number of exercise programs. To compensate, there are wonderful braces from simple sleeves on up to metal-reinforced braces. I swear by BackOnTrack.com (Disclosure: I have NO relationship with them other than as a customer) and their knee, wrist and ankle braces. These sleeves create a far-infrared thermal effect that for me removes the pain from a barking joint after wearing it for a couple of days. I also wear the knee sleeves as a preventative measure on the treadmill.
When considering an exercise plan, you can either:
- Find a way to protect/ease your body weakness(es)
- Using a brace or sleeve
- Use a pain-alleviating rub (e.g., CBC or cannabis oil)
- Find an exercise program that doesn’t exacerbate your body weakness(es).
- Swimming is recommended as easiest on older joints — but it doesn’t strengthen your bones like most other exercise programs do. Silver Sneakers recommends swimming as well as yoga and pilates.
- If your bones are too fragile for jumping or running, ask a doctor for exercises you can safely do to strengthen them
Warning about your ramp-up time!
Be very careful when you increase your workouts. Whether adding on something new, just more reps, or starting from scratch. Unlike when we were younger — we need to add new (or more) exercises very carefully. Start slow. Add in smaller increments.
And… don’t listen to personal trainers who tell you what to do. Most don’t have a clue about senior physiology. I and several of my friends found ourselves in real pain and unable to exercise for 1-3 months following the well-meaning but incompetent advice of trainers. Even physical therapy trainers who should know better.
My sister must remind her trainers every time they suggest a new movement: “Yes, I CAN do more than a couple reps of this, but I WON’T — because if I do it now then tomorrow I’ll be in serious pain that could take months to go away.”
I wish I’d been as smart as her when I saw a P.T. (physical therapist) for an arm problem. He had me lean my left hand against a desk, then move my right arm (holding a light weight) backwards, then back. I did 10 reps twice and it was extremely easy. No pain. I didn’t notice — and neither did the P.T. — that the position put my neck in a slightly awkward position. Two days later I couldn’t move my neck without blinding pain. Ice packs. Heat pads. A trip back to the P.T. Nothing worked and I walked around in absolute agony for almost two weeks before it eased off.
Yes, increase what you’re doing. But do it incrementally — even if it seems easy. It will not only keep you going — without pain — but it’s more rewarding. Each exercise session could add one more rep. Or, if that’s too fast, add another rep (or pounds to the weights) each week. You’ll get lots and lots of reinforcement from your frequent small victories. And you won’t be laid up in pain for two months(!)