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Patient education: Exercise and movement as you get older (The Basics)

Patient education: Exercise and movement as you get older (The Basics)

Why is it important to stay active as I get older? — People who stay active as they get older tend to be healthier than people who do not stay active. Even small amounts of physical activity in your daily routine can improve your health.

It's never too late to become active, and anyone can benefit. This is true even for people who have not exercised before or have not exercised for a long time.

What are the benefits of exercise? — There are many benefits to exercising as you get older. They include:

Living longer – Overall, older adults who exercise live longer than those who do not.

A better chance of "healthy aging" – This means staying healthy both physically and mentally as you get older.

Being more likely to stay independent

Being less likely to fall or get injured because of a fall

Slowing muscle loss, and keeping up aerobic fitness – As people age, they naturally lose muscle mass and become less fit. But with exercise, these effects happen more slowly.

Other health benefits – These include including lowering blood pressure and lowering stress.

What are the main types of exercise? — Older adults should do 4 types of exercise:

Aerobic exercise – This type of exercise raises your heart rate. Examples of aerobic exercise are walking, swimming, tennis, dancing, and using an exercise machine like an "elliptical."

Muscle strengthening – This means exercises that make your muscles stronger. You can do this type of exercise using weights, exercise bands, or weight machines. But you don't need special equipment to get stronger. You can also do this type of exercise using your own body weight, like with wall pushups. Or you can lift items in your home, like jugs of water.

Flexibility – Flexibility is important for tasks like putting on shoes or reaching objects overhead. You can improve your flexibility with things like stretching or yoga.

Balance training – Balance training lowers your chances of a fall or injury caused by a fall. Examples of balance training include tai chi or doing special balance exercises. Some types of muscle strengthening exercises also improve balance.

It's important to try to do all 4 types of exercise regularly. That way, your body, muscles, and joints can be as healthy as possible.

Should I talk to my doctor or nurse before I start exercising? — If you have not exercised before or have not exercised in a long time, talk with your doctor or nurse before you start an exercise program.

If you have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease (like high blood pressure or diabetes), your doctor or nurse might recommend getting an exercise test before starting an exercise program. If you have other health conditions, they might recommend working with a physical therapist (exercise expert).

When you start an exercise program, start slowly. For example, do the exercise at a slow pace or for a few minutes only. Over time, you can increase your pace and how long you exercise.

What should I do when I exercise? — Each time you exercise, you should:

Warm up – Warming up can help keep you from hurting your muscles when you exercise. For example, you can walk for a few minutes or stretch for 5 to 10 minutes.

Work out – You should try to get a mix of aerobic exercise, muscle strengthening, flexibility training, and balance training.

Cool down – Cooling down helps keep you from feeling dizzy after you exercise. It also helps prevent muscle cramps. To cool down, stretch or do a light aerobic exercise for 5 minutes.

Some people go to a gym or do group exercise classes. But you can exercise even without these things. Some exercises can be done even in a small space. You can also try online videos or smartphone apps to get ideas for different types of exercise.

Certain insurance plans might include access to fitness programs, such as "Silver Sneakers." Check with your insurance company to see if you have this type of benefit.

How often should I exercise? — This depends on your age and current fitness level. You can ask your doctor to help you come up with an activity plan.

In general, it is best to "start low and go slow" with exercise and build up over time. For example, you could start with walking 5 to 10 minutes a day.

Any amount of exercise has health benefits. Doing even a small amount of exercise is better than doing none.

What if I don't have time to exercise? — Many people have very busy lives and might think that they don't have time to exercise.

Even if it's hard to set aside a lot of time to exercise, you can still improve your health by moving your body more. Spending a lot of time sitting still, like watching TV, can be bad for your health.

There are many things you can to do add more movement into your daily life. For example, you can:

Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Park in a parking space that is farther away from the door.

Take a longer route when you walk from one place to another.

Take breaks from sitting – Try to get up and move around regularly.

Exercise for small amounts of time – You can try to do a few short periods of activity throughout the day. For example, do 10 minutes of exercise 3 times a day instead of a single longer session.

Find different ways to move your body – Even small amounts of movement, like doing household chores or gardening, can help improve your health. Dancing can be a good exercise as well.

Be active with others – For example, you might take walks with a friend, family member, or neighbor.

What else should I do when I exercise? — To exercise safely and avoid problems, it's important to:

Drink fluids during and after exercising. But avoid drinks with a lot of caffeine or sugar.

Avoid exercising outside if it is too hot or cold.

Wear layers of clothes, so that you can take them off if you get too hot.

Wear shoes that fit well and support your feet.

Be aware of your surroundings if you exercise outside.

When should I call the doctor or nurse? — If you have any of these symptoms when you exercise, stop exercising and call your doctor or nurse right away:

Pain or pressure in your chest, arms, throat, jaw, or back

Nausea or vomiting

Feeling like your heart is fluttering or racing very fast

Feeling dizzy or faint

More on this topic

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Patient education: Exercise (Beyond the Basics)
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Patient education: Losing weight (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Exercise and medical care for people with type 2 diabetes (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: High blood pressure in adults (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
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