How to create health in your senior years
One of the most common questions we hear from our community is “How do I begin to exercise if I’m older?”
Many of our clients come to us when they are in their 60s and older, and they may have spent much of their adult lives practicing Habits of Disease rather than Habits of Health. For this group, creating health can be particularly frustrating. The vast majority of “diet” programs are either outright unhealthy or are paired with a military-grade exercise program.
When we get older, Olympic lifting programs and high intensity box jumps and wind sprints are not only impractical, but they can be dangerous as well. Yes, there are many people in our community who are older and are incredibly fit, but if you are in the process of losing weight and have exercised a relatively small amount for the majority of your life, we need to take an approach to motion that is safe, accessible, and sustainable.
Guidelines for safe senior exercising
If you are a senior and are starting an exercise program, here are the guidelines you should follow:
- Talk to your physician first. Before you make any significant change to your routine, consult a medical professional to discuss your goals and concerns. This conversation can help you to tailor your new motion program around your specific health needs.
- Look for movement opportunities outside of the gym. Walking more and standing more, even if you are only adding a few steps or a few minutes to your routine a day, are big wins for all adults, seniors included.
- Consider a personal trainer. Many exercise-related injuries come from over-exertion or poor form. If you ask a certified expert to guide you, you can learn the proper technique for different kinds of exercises and also have a source of support and encouragement right by your side.
- Start small, and start slow. In Dr. A’s Habits of Health, we share a variety of exercises with beginner and advanced variations. The safest way forward is to start with the less challenging exercises first, using little to no weight, so that you can get comfortable with these new movements. You don’t have to toss around a bunch of big plates to be healthy. What matters is that you are doing more than yesterday and that you are making progress on your own terms.
- Join senior-friendly exercise classes. Walking groups or water aerobics programs geared toward older adults are more likely to adopt the appropriate pace and take into account common senior concerns, such as back or joint pain.
- Balance is important. As we age, we often become more prone to slips and falls. As you work to get fit, incorporate balance exercises into your routine such as shifting your weight from side to side or balancing on one leg for longer and longer periods of time. Be safe, of course. Work with a partner, stand near a railing for support, and gradually increase the intensity from session to session, stopping as soon as you feel weak or experience pain.
- Practice Habits of Healthy Eating. If your goal is to reach a healthy weight, exercising the fat away is not the best solution for any age group. If you manage your portions and fuel your body with healthy foods, you are better equipped to enter fat-burning and will see more significant results from your exercises.
These general guidelines should help you get started, but remember that as we age, the challenges we face might be very different from other people of the same age. Don’t compare yourself to others. Instead, work with professionals to find an exercise program that makes sense for you and your goals. For my part, if you tell me that you did one wall push-up a day for a month when you did zero the month before, I’ll be incredibly proud of you.
The Habits of Health journey is all about these small victories. I don’t care if someone else your age or younger is lifting more weights or running farther. What I care about is that you discover your own optimal health and that you get a little bit healthier each day.