Exercise. Even the very word can be distressing because it almost always means work. From our youth we’re told about its benefits and, as we grow older, exercise for seniors becomes a primary topic during our annual physical and even within social gatherings. So, how can you make it fun? How can you make it into something you don’t dread doing every day?
Exercise for seniors is no doubt part of an overall plan for living a healthier and more active life but, as we age, there are things to keep in mind. According to the National Institute on Aging, any exercise program should focus on endurance, balance, flexibility, and strength and you should be careful to merge it into your daily activities so that you don’t do more harm than good. Always consult your doctor and, if you haven’t done any exercise previously, start slowly and carefully track your progress. Your goal should be at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, like brisk walking or fast dancing each week. You should do some sort of exercise at least two days per week but three or four are even better. It’s interesting to note that “fast dancing” is listed as an option. That goes well with our philosophy of making exercise enjoyable. Getting a workout with an activity you enjoy, especially in a social setting, is one way to make sure you stay faithful to an exercise program. But just be careful not to take too many liberties. We know many seniors who claim that a round of golf a couple of times per week is all the exercise they need. In actuality, that might be a good start IF you walk the course instead of riding a golf cart. Golf is a great game, but it probably doesn’t meet the qualification for exercise of moderate intensity.
Pickleball is an exercise for seniors that certainly does meet those criteria and it’s one of the reasons it’s gaining in popularity. It does help build endurance and flexibility but may come up short on the strength building aspect and that is a key component of any exercise program. Even light weightlifting can help build your strength but not too many people look forward to a session by themselves. Swimming, if available, can provide a strength-building activity that you might find more enjoyable. The National Institute for Aging website has some great suggestions on how to customize an exercise program that is appropriate for your age and situation but, again, consult your doctor before jumping into any strenuous activity.
We also need to keep in mind that exercise for seniors can also apply to your mind. Staying mentally alert can be helped by any number of activities for the brain from word puzzles and math problems to taking courses at your local college or learning a new language. That can open a whole new world for you. We know someone who took a photography course and joined a club which occupies a great deal of his time. We also know a couple of people who took a French course so they could practice for their upcoming trip to Paris. Just as with a physical exercise program, if you combine your mental exercises with a goal in mind and make it a social undertaking, you greatly increase your likelihood of staying with it. Think of it as exercise for seniors with a purpose. Having a purpose always makes a difference.
We believe it’s always beneficial to know what your goal is before beginning anything. We approach any program of exercise for seniors in precisely the same way whether it’s the mental challenge of learning a new language or becoming physically healthier. If you’re taking up golf, set a goal for your ultimate handicap. If you’re taking a language, visit a place where you can practice. In either case, try to make it a social event and you’ll greatly increase the chances of success. When you’re doing something with a group or a team, each member can encourage the other and you become more focused on the time together that can be enjoyed rather than one more box on the exercise program that can be checked off.
Pickleball, which we mentioned before, might be the best example of this. Who knows how long this trend will last but it is catching on quickly. And it’s not just an exercise for seniors! Our son and his wife have become somewhat fanatical about this. The best thing is that you don’t need a lot of equipment, you can do it with other people, and you get a great workout in the process. No matter what you do, start an exercise program after consulting your doctor and get on with making the most of your golden years. It’s time to Enjoy Retired Life!
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