Physical activity builds physical
vitality. With every year of your life, you have more to gain from being
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.
- Mood (regular aerobic exercise can help manage
depression, anxiety, and stress).
- Balance, strength, and
flexibility, which are key to preventing injuries and falls.
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:
If you already have a chronic disease, becoming
physically active may reduce your need for medicine to treat or control
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
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
- Fitness: Making It a Habit
- Quick Tips: Getting Active at Home
- Quick Tips: Having Enough Energy to Stay Active
- Fitness: Walking for Wellness
- 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
- Moderate activity 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.
- Vigorous activity 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
If you are just starting a fitness program or if you are
age 65 or older, talk to your doctor about how often is safe for you to be
- 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
- 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,
muscle fitness 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.1
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.
- Quick Tips: Improving Your Balance.
- Fitness: Getting and Staying Active
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
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
- 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
- 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, 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
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Carla J. Herman, MD, MPH - Geriatric Medicine
May 29, 2012
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