Physical activity builds physical vitality. With every year of your life, you have more to gain from being physically active.
What are the benefits of being physically active?
On a daily basis, being physically active improves your quality of life by improving your:
- Energy level.
- Mental sharpness.
- Mood (regular aerobic exercise can help manage depression, anxiety, and stress).
- Balance, strength, and flexibility, which are key to preventing injuries and falls.
- Odds against chronic illness. Physical activity also often helps manage chronic illness with fewer medicines.
As you get older, an inactive lifestyle increases your risk of chronic disease. Conversely, getting regular aerobic exercise is one of your best defenses against diseases, such as:
- Reference Coronary artery disease Opens New Window.
- High blood pressure.
- Reference Osteoporosis Opens New Window (weight-bearing exercise is necessary).
- Reference Type 2 diabetes Opens New Window.
If you already have a chronic disease, becoming physically active may reduce your need for medicine to treat or control it.
I'm not physically active right now—how do I start?
If you've been inactive for awhile, you don't necessarily have to set your sights on becoming athletic—your first Reference goal is to simply start moving more each day. Before you do, though, get off to a smart start by seeing your doctor for a full physical examination. Then you can follow his or her recommendations as well as these guidelines for becoming more physically active.
- Add more movement to your daily routine. For example, put away the TV remote control, park farther from building entrances or at the opposite side of the parking lot from where you're going, and take stairs instead of elevators. Walk a lap or two around your house or apartment, then down the street or around a nearby park. Buy a pedometer and gradually increase the number of steps you take each day.
- Start with small, short-term goals. It's easiest to keep doing something new when you have early, frequent successes. For example, make a plan to walk for 10 minutes a day, 3 days a week, for 2 weeks.
- Buddy up with a friend. There's no better way to stay on track with physical activity than with a buddy you look forward to seeing, who also counts on you (especially on days when you could easily find an excuse not to be physically active).
- Change the way you think about yourself—start thinking, dressing, and eating like the active, vital person you plan to be.
- Make physical fitness a habit with such simple tasks as writing physical activity into your weekly calendar.
- Reference Reference Fitness: Making It a Habit
- Reference Quick Tips: Getting Active at Home
- Reference Quick Tips: Having Enough Energy to Stay Active
- Reference Reference Fitness: Walking for Wellness
- Reference Reference Fitness: Using a Pedometer or Step Counter
After a few weeks of regular physical activity, you will probably feel better than before. When you're ready for more, add some variety to your activity schedule with new ways to build flexibility, aerobic fitness, and muscle strength. Experts say to do either of these things to get and stay healthy:Reference 1
- Reference Moderate activity Opens New Window for at least 2½ hours a week. One way to do this is to be active 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. Moderate activity means things like brisk walking, brisk cycling, or ballroom dancing. But any activities—including daily chores—that raise your heart rate can be included. You notice your heart beating faster with this kind of activity.
- Reference Vigorous activity Opens New Window for at least 1¼ hours a week. One way to do this is to be active 25 minutes a day, at least 3 days a week. Vigorous activity means things like jogging, cycling fast, or cross-country skiing. You breathe rapidly and your heart beats much faster with this kind of activity.
It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week. You can choose to do one or both types of activity.
If you are just starting a fitness program or if you are age 65 or older, Reference talk to your doctor about how often is safe for you to be physically active.
- Flexibility is increasingly important as age-related stiffness becomes a normal part of your daily life. A regular stretching or yoga routine can greatly improve your ease of movement. To help prevent injury, it's important to stretch before and after any activity that uses your joints and muscles for more than a few minutes.
- Aerobic fitness conditions your heart and lungs. Aerobic (oxygen-using) exercise is any activity that gets your heart pumping faster than when you're at rest, circulating more oxygen-carrying blood throughout your body. All kinds of daily activities can be aerobic, ranging from housecleaning, yard work, or pushing a child on a swing to walking, bicycling, or playing tennis.
- Muscle fitness includes building more powerful muscles and increasing how long you can use them (endurance). Weight lifting builds stronger muscles and strengthens bones. No matter what your age and whether you've done it before, you can gain great benefit from strength training. As you age, Reference muscle fitness Opens New Window plays an increasingly important part in staying at a healthy weight, because muscle is the primary cell type that uses calories. Muscle fitness is also key to improving or preventing balance problems, falls, and therefore bone fractures. Try to do exercises to strengthen muscles at least two times each week.Reference 1 Examples include Reference weight training or stair climbing on two or more days that are not in a row. For best results, use a resistance (weight) that gives you muscle fatigue after 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise.
I'm already physically active. Is there anything more I should be doing?
Even if you're happy with your fitness routine, it's a good idea to periodically stop, think, and rework your activities and goals. As age-related issues gradually enter into your fitness equation, keep the following things in mind.
- Beyond age 60, it's important to spend as much time building strength and flexibility as you spend on aerobic fitness. Strength and flexibility help your body better handle the age-related changes, including loss of muscle and problems with balance. To maintain or improve your balance and resilience, include stretching, muscle strengthening, and such balance-building activities as Reference yoga or Reference tai chi in your weekly routine.
- It's normal to have to gradually adjust your expectations of how far you can push your body. If you're used to pushing yourself, accept your body's changes and tend toward moderation.
- Cross-training, or including different activities in your activity calendar, helps you build better overall fitness and helps prevent injury from overuse.
- Replacing a "lost" activity is a key to staying active. For instance, if you can no longer run, you might try walking, biking, and/or swimming.
- Injury generally takes longer to recover from as you age. If you are injured, allow your injury time to heal—yet keep the rest of your body moving. You can choose from a list of alternate activities, such as swimming, Reference water exercises, biking, walking, yoga, Pilates, or rowing.
- To prevent injury, start a new activity gradually, avoid overusing your body, and stretch often. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after you are active. This is very important when it's hot out and when you do intense exercise.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference October 28, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Reference Carla J. Herman, MD, MPH - Geriatric Medicine