Aging experts say the single most important thing we can do as we age is to keep moving. Because our independence is dictated by maintaining our mobility, consistent movement and physical activity ensures aging with dignity and choice.
Most people tend to focus on one type of exercise or activity. Research, however, confirms that it’s important to get four types of exercise: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Each one has different benefits.
Fitness advocate Fred Procter offers this easily adaptable fitness plan for 2024.
Endurance is important for maintaining heart and respiratory health. Walk seven and a half minutes away from home then turn around and return. You have just walked for 15 minutes! Adding arm movements enhances your workout. When we raise our arms above our heart, we raise our heart rate and positively impact our endurance. Jogging can be added, or combine walking and jogging, if possible. To increase the benefit of the walk, carry something weighing a few pounds like a can of soup in each hand. You can accomplish this workout at home by marching in place.
Strength is key to maintaining the bone density and muscle strength needed to perform daily tasks. Two movements that add strength, without added weights, are squats and push-ups. Squats are awesome for legs, glutes and overall body. Beginners can stand in front of a chair with legs shoulder width apart and sit down and stand up. Your knees should stay behind your toes. If support is needed, use a chair or table as you squat. Begin with 10 repetitions or exercise for 30 seconds. Repeat this three times. Push-ups are great for strengthening the arms, chest, abs and overall body. No need to go onto the floor, begin with wall push-ups. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and at least an arm’s length from the wall. Place your hands on the wall and lean toward the wall, bending your arms until they are at 90 degrees. Push yourself away from the wall and repeat the process. Begin with 10 repetitions or exercise for 30 seconds. Repeat this three times or three sets. As you gain strength and confidence, you can move from the wall to a counter, from the counter to a stable chair, from a stable chair to the floor on your knees.
Balance is crucial as we age because of the dangers that slip and falls present. We have all heard of an older adult who suffered a fall and had a difficult time recovering. Simple balancing movements can include standing on one leg and front, back or side lunges. Each of these can be done while holding onto a chair.
Flexibility decreases with age, increasing chronic pain and the risk of injuries such as fractures and muscle strains. Daily stretching exercises help to improve flexibility. When you're just starting out, aim to hold each stretch for 30 seconds. As you become more comfortable with stretching, increase the time to one to two minutes. Avoid bouncing, which can cause your muscles to tighten more and lead to injury. Stretch to the point of resistance or mild discomfort, but avoid pain. When you stretch, target the major muscle groups throughout your body. Yoga, Tai Chi, or adding lightweight stretch bands can increase your mobility and stimulate some of your dormant muscles.
For all four forms of exercise YouTube videos are a great source of instruction for beginners. The true benefit of exercise comes from consistency. Three, four or five days of movement will produce tremendous long-term gains. But, be reminded, you cannot out-work bad eating habits! Be certain that your intake of food contains fewer sugary drinks and "junk" foods and more vegetables, protein and water.
And, finally, consult your physician before beginning to find out whether any medical problems will affect your exercise routine. Also, consider engaging friends or family to move with you and each of you can be the motivator for the other.
Ferdinand “Fred” Procter is a retired public school administrator, sports coach, and fitness trainer who serves on the Michigan State Advisory Council on Aging, representing the Detroit Area Agency on Aging’s service area. He also teaches pickleball and fitness classes.