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Exercising as you age

Exercising regularly can help improve the length and quality of your life. Your doctor can help you decide what types of exercise are best.

Your relationship with exercise might change a bit as you get older. Your body won't necessarily run as fast or lift as much weight as when you were younger. But exercise is still important. In fact, exercise is one of the best things you can do to enjoy a longer, healthier and more independent life.

According to the National Institutes of Health, regular, moderate exercise can help:

  • Control blood pressure, body weight and cholesterol levels.
  • Reduce the risk for hardened arteries, heart attack, stroke and, evidence suggests, some cancers.
  • Avoid osteoporosis.
  • Stabilize joints and increase flexibility.
  • Improve digestion.
  • Reduce stress and sleep problems.
  • Control low-back pain, arthritis and diabetes.
  • Relieve some menopause-related changes.
  • Build energy and staying power for activities you need or want to do, such as maintaining your home or walking with your grandchildren.

Check in for a checkup

Depending on your present fitness level, getting your doctor's OK to exercise may require no more than a phone call, or your doctor may want to examine you at the office, especially if you aren't accustomed to exercise.

Always see your doctor if you have, or are at risk for, a chronic condition, such as heart disease or diabetes, or if you smoke or are obese.

A chronic condition—even if you have arthritis or osteoporosis—probably won't prevent you from exercising, but you might need to modify the intensity of your workout or learn special techniques.

If you develop problems such as chest pain, severe shortness of breath, dizziness or nausea, stop what you're doing and check with your doctor before resuming activity.

Build a stronger, more flexible body

The National Institute on Aging recommends four kinds of exercise. Some can be performed at home using homemade equipment. Others are better done in a setting with exercise equipment and some supervision.

Strength exercises (such as weightlifting and push-ups) build your muscles and increase the rate at which you burn calories—which helps keep your weight and blood sugar in check. You should do these on two or more days a week.

Balance exercises (such as side leg raises and walking heel-to-toe as if you're on a tightrope) build leg muscles, improve balance and help prevent disabling falls.

Endurance exercises (such as walking, swimming or cycling) increase energy and staying power by improving the health of your heart and lungs. In general, healthy people should strive for a weekly total of at least two and a half hours of aerobic activity that makes them breathe harder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flexibility exercises (like stretching) extend your muscles and tissues to help keep your body limber, prevent falls and hasten recovery from injuries.

Set your own pace

Start with a light exercise regimen and increase your activity slowly. Use a chart to track your progress. For example, write down once a month how many repetitions you can do while lifting weights, distance traveled while walking or how long you can stand on one leg.

Look for expert advice

You probably don't need a personal trainer. However, if you feel more comfortable working with an exercise expert, you could consult with a physical therapist, a sports medicine doctor, or a trainer who is certified by the American Council on Exercise or the American College of Sports Medicine to work with older people.

reviewed 10/24/2019

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