Want To Stay Fit After 50? Remember Your ABCS
You’ve probably heard—maybe many times—that regular exercise is the key to healthier aging, and that’s true. But there are some particular fitness areas that doctors recommend focusing on to get the most benefits from the time you spend working out. Geriatrician Elizabeth Eckstrom, co-author of The Gift of Caring, calls them the ABC’S. Let’s spell them out.
A is for Aerobic Activity
Aerobic activity is what keeps our hearts strong and our lungs working well. Mall-walking, stairclimbing, speedwalking, cycling, and swimming or water aerobics are all good options for an aerobic workout. Jazzercise, dance classes, and active gardening (think pushing a manual mower or walking behind a push mower) can raise your heart rate, too.
The key with aerobic activity is to start slowly if you’re not already exercising regularly and don’t overdo it. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that older adults alternate between moderate aerobic activities like walking and shorter, more intense workouts such as stairclimbing to avoid strain and injury.
B is for Balance Exercises
Balance exercises are often recommended by doctors to give older adults more confidence in their ability to get around and to reduce the risk of falls. Tai chi is the most often recommended regimen for improving seniors’ balance, and its repertoire of very slow martial-arts poses is easy on joints. Recently published research found that seniors who took customized tai chi classes at home for 6 months were “significantly less likely to experience an injury-producing fall” than a comparable group of seniors who received lower-extremity training physical therapy.
If you can’t find a tai chi class, you can work on your balance at home (ideally, with another person nearby in case you need some help). The Mayo Clinic has a short slideshow of basic exercises such as shifting your weight from foot to foot while standing, balancing on one leg for several seconds at a time, and weight shifts with the added challenge of bicep curls.
C is for Core Strength
Core and other strength exercises help people retain and build muscle mass that’s needed for a healthy metabolism, good posture, and of course, the strength to tackle daily activities. Eckstrom recommends free weights and stretchy resistance bands that are easy to use at home. Not sure what to do with them? Tufts University and the CDC have created a free program called Growing Stronger: Strength Training for Older Adults that includes specific exercises along with detailed information about fitness goal-setting, staying motivated, avoiding injury, and more. You can take the class online or download a workbook to print and use.
S is for Stretching
Stretching and flexibility are important, too, because they make it easier to move throughout the day and to perform specific safety tasks like checking your mirrors while driving. Regular stretching can also ease muscle aches and pains. Eckstrom recommends at least 10 minutes of stretching or light yoga every day. Gentle hatha yoga is a good choice for new practitioners, and you can also try the stretching exercises (with pictures and short video demonstrations) on the NIH Senior Health website.
Always talk to your doctor before you start a fitness program, and make notes on his or her recommendations for your particular fitness level and overall health, including how often you should do each of the ABCS. Start slowly, be persistent, and fitness can become a regular habit.