BY WILLIAM GILLESPIE, M.D.
Getting older doesn’t mean you should slow down or stop exercising. By staying active, you can help prevent disease, maintain physical strength and improve your mental agility. Just be sure that you consult your doctor before starting an exercise regimen.
If exercise hasn’t been part of your daily routine, you can start out slowly by going for regular walks with friends. Walking at a brisk pace is ideal for most people, regardless of age, because it is easier on your bones and joints than jogging and other high-impact activities.
Take your dog for daily walks – an exercise that not only helps you to combat obesity, but your canine, too! According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, nearly half of all canines are overweight or obese.
Walking also strengthens your heart, reducing your risk for stroke, heart attack and coronary artery disease. In addition, it helps burn calories, which allows you to maintain a healthy weight.
What is a healthy weight? From a medical point of view, it’s a proper weight for your body that minimizes your risk for disease. It’s not about being thin necessarily. There are many good guides to judge body mass index, activity and waist size – all good indicators of healthy weight. Of course, moderate exercise can both help attain a healthy weight and maintain it.
To prevent bone loss and build muscle, you may want to consider lifting light weights. Weightlifting can also prove to be an excellent activity for muscular and cardiovascular endurance. Although you may not be lifting at your maximum capacity, lifting lighter weights may be an overall safer training method when done properly.
Gardening activities also help to build muscle and burn calories. By digging dirt, pulling weeds and hauling bags of mulch, you can burn around 300 calories, depending on your body weight, for every hour spent planting your favorite flowers and vegetables. As in all activities you partake in, be mindful of your physical limits, including health issues such as arthritis when gardening. Choose tools and activities that you can handle.
Stretching exercises are also a vital component in any exercise routine. Not only does stretching increase your flexibility, which can promote ease of movement and reduce risk of injury, it can also improve posture and bone mineral density, which can prevent developing osteoporosis – a bone disease that leads to an increased risk of fracture. Consider using the warm-up period before more intense activities to do your stretching exercises.
Don’t underestimate the importance of balance. Exercises like standing on one foot or walking on a curb help prevent falls – the leading cause of injury death for adults 65 years of age or older. Remember to always have a strong support nearby that you can grasp if you lose your balance when performing these exercises.
Most importantly, find exercises you like and stick to a routine. You’ll feel stronger and more energetic. If the outdoor life is not for you, try an exercise class for seniors. You can meet new people and maintain an independent, healthy you.
William Gillespie, M.D., is Chief Medical Officer of EmblemHealth. EmblemHealth Neighborhood Care in Cambria Heights provides wellness information, health care solutions and support to EmblemHealth members and to the people of Queens.