The Importance of Exercise and Staying Active

We’ve probably all heard the expression, “If you don’t use it, you will lose it.” There is a lot of truth in that, so staying physically and mentally active and exercising regularly is important. But what about after retirement?
Shouldn’t you begin to slow down? The answer is a resounding no. In fact, there is no reason a person in their retirement years cannot be just as active as their younger counterparts. In many ways it becomes even more important.

Regular exercise is critical to a strong mind, strong bones and muscles, and overall good health. As you age there is a natural decrease in your cardiac, vascular, and respiratory output. A regular aerobic exercise program can slow these natural changes down, and in some cases even reverse them. Additionally, bone and lean body mass decrease as you age. These are both things that can be slowed down significantly by exercise, having a large impact on your quality of life and your ability to stay mobile.

If you have specific health concerns, or if you have historically had a sedentary lifestyle, it is very important to begin an exercise program slowly under the supervision of your primary care provider. But, if you have historically been an active person, and are relatively healthy, there is no reason not to continue that all through your golden years.

What type of exercise is recommended for people in our age group? Well, the answer is really the same as that for exercise recommended for younger people. Walking is always a good place to start. Swimming, jogging, cycling, tennis, volleyball, and dance are also all great choices, depending on your level and abilities. Swimming and other aquatic exercises being especially good for those with joint problems. Many people find that doing a variety of exercises keeps things interesting. Also, weight bearing exercises are important for bone health, so a workout with light weights is a nice addition to any exercise program. Some even recommend wearing weight-resistant bands while walking. Again, please consult with your primary care provider before beginning any new exercise program.

While putting together an exercise program, do not forget flexibility. Flexibility improves your balance and helps reduce injuries to your joints. While stretching and remaining limber is an easy component to ignore, it is critically important, especially as you age. One way to improve flexibility is through the practice of yoga, which can do wonders for the body, mind and spirit. It doesn’t have to be complicated or twist you into a pretzel. There are many beginner yoga practices that are really just easy stretching.

Another thing to remember is sustainability. Often, people set their sights on an exercise program that is not realistic for them or for the long term. If it isn’t geared for your level you risk injury and if it isn’t enjoyable it will be difficult to stay motivated and therefore sustain. Think about your motive for wanting to exercise. There is a big difference between “I want to run a marathon” and “I want to maintain good mobility.” Plan a program that meets that motive and is something you enjoy doing. Sustaining your program may also be easier if you hold yourself accountable to someone else. Many people find exercising with a friend or in a group great for this and also for keeping it fun. Community centers or your local YMCA almost always offer exercise classes, including yoga, for all levels and age groups.  Many also offer discounts to seniors.

In the end, though, being active is about more than just regular exercise.  Maintaining an active lifestyle in general will increase your ability to stay mobile and keep you healthier both physically and mentally. If you are currently not as active as you would like to be, small changes can have a big impact. If you are able, park your car a little farther away from the door at the store and take the stairs instead of the elevator. Carry the groceries in from the garage instead of pulling the car up to the front door. Try tracking your steps with an activity tracker or an app for your smart phone. This allows you to see how much you are really moving in a day and helps you achieve any goals you set. All the small steps you take add up and help prevent you from becoming too sedentary. Look for opportunities to move everyday. That is what keeps us using it so we won’t risk losing it.