You're reading this blog, so you've taken your first step to improving your health through exercise. Congratulations! Now, of course, you're not going to stop here (are you?). If you work out but feel it's not working for you, maybe there's some tinkering you need to do with your exercise routine. I've found that many people simply don't know some of the finer points of making their exercise work for them. For others, it's not a matter of knowing what works, it's a matter of realizing that they'll need to adapt their exercise to the fact that their bodies are getting a little older.
You'll be glad to know that most of these exercise tips are extremely easy to follow and you'll readily be able to incorporate them into your routine. We'll start out slow, though, which is of course how you'll want to start your own exercise sessions:
1. Check out your sneaks.
Whether you'll be pounding the pavement or the treadmill, you need to start with the basic step of making sure you have sneakers that will help you step. Most people don't replace their sneakers often enough (every 3 months for frequent use), or don't get the right ones in the first place. This can get expensive, but the amount you save later in physician's bills or rehab will more than pay off. The best sneakers are suited to the task, meaning that you use cross-trainers for most gym workouts and running shoes for the road or treadmill. They have to fit you properly and accommodate nicely cushioned socks. If you want, you can add an insert to the sole or replace the factory sole with a special padded one, but in either case, the shoe needs to fit with the socks you plan to wear. Prefer to run barefoot? Not a good idea. Any data about barefoot running tends not to take age into account, much less the hazards that might await you in the road.
2. Build in time for warm-ups (and cool-downs).
As people get older, their bodies don't start up or wind down quite as easily. The main reason for this is that the various bodily systems take a little longer to "boot up." A minimum 5-minute warm up will start to get blood flowing to your muscles, and will also help to relax, somewhat, the tendons. At the end of your workout, your muscles are warmer and everything else is a little looser, and will therefore stretch more easily. That stretching will increase your flexibility, which is an important goal of exercise in the post-50 years and beyond. In fact, it's safe to say that flexibility is as important, if not more so, than strength. As we age, the joints get stiffer and a bit more painful to move. The added flexibility benefit of stretching will improve the efficiency of your joints and relieve the stress you place on them. You'll also be less likely to injure yourself.
3. Don't turn up the volume.
If you need TV, music or audiobooks to entertain you while you exercise, make sure you keep the volume at a moderate level. The direct input of sound into your ears increases the risks of damage to the tiny, delicate, hair cells that are responsible for registering sound. You'll negate the good of exercise with the bad of hearing loss if you don't protect your ears from this source of damage.
4. Stick to a regular schedule.
It's easy to say that you're too busy to find that block of 30, 45, or 60 minutes with all the pressures you have on your time. Therefore, you have to pretend that your workout is just as immutable as anything you have on your office or home schedule. Once you make it a regular part of your day and week, you'll start eventually to feel like something's missing if you're not working out. Exercise is one habit that you want to make at least slightly addictive.
5. Build in rewards for your workouts.
Even the most disciplined, or addicted, exerciser needs to have something to look forward to that will keep the behavior going. There's that great feeling you'll get about 20 minutes into the workout when your endorphins kick in, but apart from that, using some motivational psychology will help you maintain your habits. Find a favorite TV show, piece of music, or audiobook that you save specifically for your workout (keeping the volume turned down, of course). Alternatively, plan to do something enjoyable right after your workout so that the exercise becomes associated with this enjoyable activity. The only thing you want to be careful about is that the enjoyable activity doesn't create its own problems. For whatever reason, research shows consistently that people who exercise a lot also tend to drink more. Find a rewarding, pleasurable activity that doesn't place you at risk for some other health problem or you'll be defeating your own purpose. Of course, just having fun while you work out can be rewarding as well. If you're a social person who likes to spend time after the workout talking to your gym buddies, this is a perfect way to mix the social with the physical benefits of exercise.
6. Mix up your exercise regimes. A consistent exercise time should be part of your day or week, but not a consistent set of exercises. If you lift the same weights every day in the same sequence, or run the same route or pace on the treadmill, your body will readily adapt to the demands and start to go into automatic gear. Interval training, in which you mix high and low intensities, is great for creating little shock wave patterns for your body. However, even these can get routine. Mix up different interval routines, alternate weight-lifting with aerobics, and occasionally do something completely different like yoga or dance.
7. Don't skimp on the time.
You might be one of those people who selectively finds news stories touting the benefits of the mini-workout. Don't believe it! You need a minimum of 20 minutes of intense or moderately intense exercise, whether it's aerobics, weight lifting, swimming, or yoga, or walking. 30 minutes will guarantee you enough time for the workout and several minutes of stretching and cooling down at either end. If you literally can't spare the time, then build your workout schedule so that you spend more time at each session on fewer days during the week.
8. Play nice.
There are certain etiquette rules that you need to follow, if not to improve your workout, then to improve the general climate in your gym, neighborhood, or home. At the gym, don't leave a mess in the locker room, run around in a state of unclothing or clothing that will embarrass others, interrupt other people's workouts, play your music too loud (which you shouldn't do anyhow), or hold people up with small talk if they're clearly in a hurry to get on with their workout or go home. If you're taking classes, don't come in late or leave unduly early, keep within your spot, share equipment if necessary, and keep your own smells under control (including fragrances). In your neighborhood, stick to the side of the road or sidewalk, don't go through other people's lawns or gardens, and don't go too near pedestrians whether you're running or biking. Finally, at home, be considerate of the rest of your family or your roommates and keep your music or TV down (again!), wash your own sweaty towels or workout clothes, and try to keep your equipment out from underfoot.
To sum up, exercise is a wonderful way to keep your body in top shape, as long as you follow these very simple tips. Though all of us complain about exercise from time to time, there's no substitute for it, if you want to stay mentally and physically fit in your 50s, and beyond.
Yoga offers a myriad of wellness benefits: flexibility, balance, centeredness, strength, mindfulness and others. Yoga is a great option for aging bodies, as it promotes working within your own comfort zone. Postures and sequences range from gentle and relaxing to more intensive for advanced yogis.
Another way to promote flexibility and overall health is incorporating some simple stretches into your daily routine, be it at home, at the gym or even outdoors. Stretching prevents injury, can relieve back pain and boosts energy. Note: It's important to stretch properly to avoid injury. Check out some good examples of stretches here and these common stretching mistakes.
Biking is a great low-impact, cardiovascular workout, not to mention it's a lot of fun. There are a few ways to incorporate biking into your routine. Joy rides in your free time are always a good option -- alone or with a group. You could consider joining a local bike group or riding to nearby destinations instead of taking the car. Stationary bikes also have great health benefits. Already a cycler? Here's how to get more benefit from your bike ride.
One of the most beneficial exercises is something humans have been doing for centuries: walking. Simple modifications to your routine, like parking further away and walking the extra distance or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can really add up to boost your overall health. For an even greater benefit, take brisk walks that get your heart rate up.
Pilates is another low-impact exercise that's ideal for aging bodies. It's similar to yoga but puts more emphasis on gaining control and balance of the body by strengthening the core muscles. Pilates can be done in a class or at home with a video or other guide. This piece offers a great run-down of the activity, along with images of some classic pilates stretches and workouts.
Tennis is a classic sport, well-loved for being fun and great for you. It's a strong aerobic workout and helps keep you agile, especially important as you get older. Tennis is also a very social activity -- great for the body, mind and spirit!
Swimming is easy on the body and is also one of the most comprehensive workouts, hitting all the major muscle groups: shoulders, back, abdominals, legs, hips and glutes. If you're getting serious about swimming, it's important to learn proper techniques, but even free-styling in the local pool or outdoors in the summer is a great way to exercise.
Dancing is one of those activities that doesn't feel like working out, but is an incredible aerobic exercise. It's a good option for those that want more physical activity but don't like the gym or in the winter when it's harder to get outdoors. There are a bunch of styles to choose from: ballroom dancing, contra dancing, salsa, ballet, tap, country and others.
As the body ages, running and jogging can take a toll on the joints, knees or back and potentially cause injury. An elliptical cross-training machine is an alternative to running, which still gets your heart rate up but at a lower impact.
You can take a simple walk to the next level by bringing weights along to build strength in your arms and boost the cardio benefits. Strength-building techniques like pushups, squats and lunges are easy to do at home or can be squeezed into buckets of free time throughout the day.
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