Exercise — a fountain of youth for aging bodies

Growing older and aging are facts of life. But even though your body is getting older, it does not have to feel old or let you down. Start exercising now.

Growing older and aging are facts of life. But even though your body is getting older, it does not have to feel old or let you down. Start exercising now.

by Brenda McDermott — 

Talk to any group of older people and chances are you will often hear a long list of stories about bodies that, once young and strong, are now betraying their owners. Many who are less healthy than they once were may even be facing a loss of independence. The bottom line is that as they have aged, they have lost endurance, strength, balance and flexibility.

But this does not have to be an inevitable fact of life and aging. Look more closely, and you will find many older people whose complaints are few and far between.

What is the difference between those who are healthy and those with many health complaints? To a great degree, the difference lies in how much activity they incorporate into their lives — in other words, how much exercise they get.

Even moderate amounts of exercise can help you avoid aches and pains, better control your weight, greatly improve your blood and oxygen circulation and increase muscle mass. Posture, flexibility, endurance and balance will improve as well. In fact, exercise will improve your overall quality of life and, in many cases, help you avoid or control diseases and health problems such as: cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and stroke, osteoporosis, falls and broken bones, arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, weight gain and even depression and anxiety.

Sounds like a miraculous fountain of youth, doesn’t it? Well, in some ways it is. And it is so simple. In order to feel your best for as long as possible, you must make exercise a top priority in your life. Plan to do something every day, but do not do the same thing every day. The key is to focus on four types of exercise. These are:

  • Strength exercises to build muscle, increase metabolism, and help control weight and blood sugar levels. These exercises include weight lifting, Pilates, or even water workouts using the foam weights available in many pool and sporting goods stores.
  • Balance exercises are critical for preventing the falls that cause so many broken hips and other fractures. Pilates is an excellent program to improve your balance. Some initially very-wobbly clients, after just a few weeks of Pilates, were completely amazed at how much their balance had improved. There are a number of excellent floor exercises that will improve your balance as well.
  • Stretching exercises build freedom of movement and flexibility. Again, Pilates is excellent for both.
  • Finally, endurance exercises increase your heart rate and breathing and give you stamina. They also get your blood pumping, which helps with a variety of conditions related to cardiovascular conditioning. Even more important, the increased oxygen to your brain will help keep your mind sharp and young. These exercises include walking, swimming, raking leaves, gardening, dancing and even housework. One caution, however: Be very careful about running and jogging as both put considerable stress on your knees and joints.

If you have concerns about beginning an exercise program, remember these things:

  • Very few people will be harmed by exercise. However, to be safe, be sure to get your doctor’s approval before you begin.
  • You do not have to join a gym or buy expensive equipment to exercise. With minimal cost, you can exercise at home. Strength, balance and stretching exercises can often be performed with as little equipment as a starter set of hand weights, latex bands and tubes, and a large exercise ball. And, many of the endurance exercises, such as walking are free!
  • If you are worried about comparing your aging body with the hard, young ones at the gym, remember that you do not have to go there if you don’t want to. And you do not need special clothes (unless you want to wear them). Comfortable, loose clothing usually works just fine.
  • Finally, whether you are 20 or 70, there are several points of which you should be aware when you begin your new exercise program.
  • Get a checkup from your doctor before you begin.
  • Do not overdo it in the beginning. If you start slowly, you will avoid sore muscles and injury.
  • A great goal is 30 minutes a day. If this is more than you can or want to do, try 10-minute segments three times a day. This is especially good for endurance exercises.
  • Pace yourself and know when to stop. If you cannot talk while you are exercising, you know you are working too hard. Also, if you experience any of the symptoms of a heart attack (tightness in your chest, severe shortness of breath, chest pain or pain in your arms or jaw, heart palpitations, dizziness or faintness), seek immediate medical attention.
  • Be creative about finding exercises that work for you. If you have a dog, walk it daily. You’ll both benefit. If arthritis keeps you from many forms of exercise, try water exercises or Pilates. Both provide excellent workouts with virtually no stress on your joints.
  • And most importantly, have fun! Who wants to do something that’s not fun? If you’re enjoying yourself, you will stick with your exercise program. And this is the most important thing of all.

Growing older and aging are facts of life. But even though your body is getting older, it does not have to feel old or let you down. Start exercising now. When you begin to feel stronger, more balanced, and flexible, you will begin to rediscover an old spring in your step and a sparkle in your eyes that goes along with being healthy and fit. It really is a little bit like a fountain of youth.

 

Brenda McDermott, owner of Fitness Dynamics, is a Pilates instructor in the Stott method of Pilates and operates a Pilates studio in north Scottsdale. 480-624-2000 or fitnessdynamics@earthlink.net or www.fitnessdynamicsstudio.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews.

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