…Even When You Skip The Gym

Staying active as you age to stay fitStaying fit requires motivation. It just does. And sometimes, that motivation is admittedly hard to find. But as you age, staying active can make a huge difference in longevity and the quality of life you can experience. As an older adult, exercise becomes less about crafting the perfect body and more about maintaining or losing weight, reducing the impact of illness and chronic disease, and enhancing your mobility, flexibility, and balance.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that adults over the age of 65 get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, and two or more days of strength training each week.

Doing that can seem daunting to the point of assuming it’s hopeless. But before you give up, here are some smaller things you can do every day to impact your strength. Moderation actually does make a difference. In fact, a recent study found that consistent moderate exercise can have the same metabolic impact as less-frequent high-intensity interval training.

Step 1: Be Cognizant of Your Movement

Movement—any at all—is beneficial to staying healthy. If you’re able to shift your mindset to one that puts some emphasis on making your body move throughout the day, you will be able to stay strong without having to put forth too much effort.

Older couple going for a walkWalking, for example, is the most underrated but highly effective movement that physical trainers recommend. Walking stimulates the cardiovascular system and strengthens the muscles of your lower body. If you can try to walk briskly for even a few minutes each day your heart will thank you. In fact, if you average 30 minutes of walking per day (it doesn’t even have to be all at once!) you can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke by 35%. And it doesn’t need to be an extensive walk to make a difference: even parking your car further away from the entrance when you run errands can add up over time.

Step 2: Make Staying Active a Habit

It’s easy to start a new fitness routine, but it can be very difficult to maintain one for any lengthy period of time. (Just ask all those people who flood the gyms on January 1 and ask to cancel their memberships by May.) Once you’ve shifted your mindset to one that focuses on staying active, make it part of your daily routine. One way to do this is to group some moderate exercise with something else you do every day. Do calf raises while you’re brushing your teeth. Or do ten sit-ups after sitting down to put on your socks. If you have stairs in your home, make yourself take the trip twice, just for good measure. The key is to add some moderate movement to something you already do.

Step 3: Add New Activities

Once you’re in the right mindset, it’s time to add new activities. An effective workout will often include five things: 

    1. warmup
    2. cardiovascular workout
    3. resistance or strength-building exercises 
    4. flexibility moves
    5. cooldown

That may sound like a lot, but if you break it down it really isn’t that bad. 

  • A warmup could involve doing some stretching, like reaching your arms above your head and then slowly bringing them down towards your toes. 
  • Older woman using resistance bandsA cardiovascular workout sounds exhausting, but anything that causes your heart rate to increase counts; walking, dancing, even housework like vacuuming can fit the bill. 
  • Resistance training sounds like something you need to prepare for going off to war, but it’s all about building up muscles you may not use that often. If you have light weights they will come in handy, but you can use just about anything. (Again, if you group this with something you already do, this will be easier to incorporate into your routine.) For example, when bringing in the groceries, try holding the bags out at shoulder height with your arms held straight. Try to lift them a few times in this manner and boom: you’ve done shoulder strength-building. Squats are great, because they strengthen multiple muscle groups at once. Try to do a few when you’re getting something out of a lower cupboard. You get the idea.
  • Stretching to stay fitFlexibility moves can be a part of your cooldown. Anything that requires you to slowly stretch in a way that is more exaggerated than your normal reach will work. Do a quick sun salutation. Do the same stretches you did to warm up. Just make sure you take the time to bring your body back to a resting heart rate, instead of just sitting down and feeling accomplished.

Additional Resources

You don’t have to worry about figuring all of this out on your own. An organization called Move It Monday is dedicated to improving New York’s general fitness levels. Their website is filled with fun and simple ways to add activities to your daily life. And finally, don’t be afraid to do a Google search for free online fitness videos. Countless options are available if you are interested, such as Silver&Fit on youTube, or Seattle’s Lifelong Recreation Program, which has everything from Tai Chi to line-dancing for people over 50. 

In addition to keeping your body strong, adding more movement into your daily routine can derive mental health benefits as well. Older adults who are more physically active tend to sleep better and have better brain function. Also, exercise is a huge stress reliever, and even moderate activity can release endorphins to improve your mood and help to stave off depression or anxiety.

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