AMARILLO If the longest journey starts with a single step … well, so does a physical activity program for the new year. That’s the word from Andrew Crocker, Texas Cooperative Extension program specialist in gerontology and health.
Getting fit and staying that way are high up on the list of many New Year’s resolutions, he said. “Physical activity can do a number of things for people of all ages but may be especially helpful to older adults.”
Not only can exercise help strengthen muscles and bones, and delay or prevent the onset of such medical conditions as diabetes and heart disease, it also can improve mood and increase social contact.
But while keeping all these positive points in mind, Crocker advised a little healthy caution too: “Older adults need to be careful about diet and exercise because of changes in the body that occur with age.”
For that reason, he went on, “always remember to discuss changes in diet and exercise … with a health provider.
“Your health provider will be a key player in your exercise routine,” Crocker said. “You will want to discuss with him or her how your personal health condition may be affected by exercise.”
And, he added, remember the adage: Start low and go slow. “Doing too much too soon may seriously injure your body.”
Crocker said these recommendations from the National Institute on Aging should also be kept in mind when establishing a physical activity plan:
- Stretching: Before and after exercising, help loosen and warm up muscles with some stretches. This practice also might help prevent injury and muscle cramping.
- Working out: Any effective exercise plan should include at least 30 minutes, nearly every day, of some form of physical activity that increases heart and breathing rate. These 30 minutes can be broken up into 10-minute increments if necessary, but the total should be at least a half an hour. One rule of thumb: If you can’t talk while exercising, you may be working too hard; if you can talk with no trouble during exercise, you aren’t working out hard enough.
- Using muscles: Every move you make should use muscles. If not used enough, muscles become weak. Strong muscles, on the other hand, not only strengthen the body but can help reinforce bones and lessen the chances of falling. Any physical activity from raking leaves to washing the car to walking around the block should be one that uses and strengthens muscles.
- Improving balance: In addition to strengthening muscles, an effective exercise program should also help improve balance. This too will help prevent falls.
A free publication on “Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging” is available for viewing or downloading at http://www.niapublications.org/exercisebook/index.asp .
Once the health care provider approves the program of physical activity, Crocker suggested these tips from the American College of Sports Medicine:
- Keep your breathing regular while exercising your muscles don’t hold your breath.
- Use appropriate safety equipment such as a bicycle helmet or correctly fitting walking shoes.
- Unless your health care provider advises otherwise, drink plenty of liquids.
- Remember to bend from the hips, not the waist.
- Expect a little soreness or discomfort, but not pain.
For more information on this and other topics of interest to older adults, visit Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences Web site at http://fcs.tamu.edu/ and click on the link to Family Life.