If you're like many people, it was easy to get to the gym in your 20s
when you were young and full of energy. But when you reached your 40s
and the days grew busy with the obligations of career, kids and maintaining
a home, it got easier to bump step class to the bottom of your to-do list.
However, midlife may be the worst time to stop exercising, says
Jennifer Hubert, DO, an internal medicine physician at
St. Joseph Health Medical Group in Sonoma County.
"We all know exercise has health benefits, but these benefits are
crucial at midlife, as it sets the stage for older adults to live long,
healthy and active lives as they age," Dr. Hubert says. "Physical
fitness may help stave off chronic diseases, such as stroke, heart disease
and certain cancers, down the road, and may cut the risk of dementia."
If you're ready to carve some time out of your busy schedule for exercise,
but not sure how to start, Dr. Hubert offers the following suggestions:
Talk to your doctor. "This should be the first thing you do," Dr. Hubert says. "As
you age, you may develop health issues that would rule out certain types
of workouts. Your physician may set some guidelines for cardio workouts
if you have a heart condition, for instance, or recommend you focus on
low-impact activities such as water aerobics if you have arthritis."
Slow and steady wins the race. "If you haven't exercised for a long time and live a sedentary
lifestyle, you shouldn't push yourself too quickly--a brisk 30-minute
walk will be better than trying to run a half marathon," Dr. Hubert
says. "Your body needs to get used to exercising again, and you want
to avoid potential injury. As you get stronger, you can ramp up your workouts."
Go for the trifecta. "An exercise program should have three components: aerobic or cardio
activity for heart function; strength training to prevent loss of muscle
mass that's typical as you age, and flexibility workouts to maintain
balance and guard against falls that can break a bone," Dr. Hubert
says. (For examples, see the box.)
Get a regular schedule. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults
up to age 65 should complete at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic
activity plus a minimum of two days of strength training each week. "Moderate
activity means you're breaking a sweat while exercising but can still
talk comfortably; workouts can include walking, cycling on flat roads
or ballroom dancing," Dr. Hubert says. "Vigorous activity is
more intense--you can't talk during it. Examples include running,
swimming and singles tennis. As you keep working out, you can move from
moderate to vigorous activity, and increase the duration of your workouts."
Have someone qualified show you the ropes. "A personal trainer can help show you proper form to prevent injury
and answer any questions you may have; most gyms offer these types of
programs," Dr. Hubert says. "If you're interested in a sport
such as swimming or track, there are masters programs geared toward adults,
where coaches offer training and guidance. In both cases, working out
under someone's supervision can keep you accountable and more likely
to stick to your workout plan."
Always warm up and cool down. Your body may not be as young as it used to be, so you want to take extra
care of it. A five- to 10-minute cardio session pre-workout, with some
stretching at the end, keeps your body supple and strong.
Find something you love. Life is too short to slog away at a particular workout if you don't
like it. "If you loved ballet dancing as a child, take a class now,"
Dr. Hubert says. "Pursuing a passion makes the workout more enjoyable--and
the more you enjoy working out, the more likely you are to stick with it."
Cardio: Walking, jogging, biking, dancing, tennis, swimming
Strength training: Free weights, weight machines, resistance bands and whole-body exercises
such as push-ups and squats. Aim for one to three sets with eight to 10
reps per set.
Flexibility: Yoga, tai chi, pilates
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.