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Recently my grown kids gifted me with a membership in the fitness center at our local senior center. Senior fitness is something I wanted but didn’t seem able to achieve on my own. My major exercise was moving from the couch to the car. Clearly something needed to be done about my lack of fitness.
Use it or lose it. Much disability among seniors is due not to age but to inactivity. Without even realizing it, many of us slowly become less and less active until we don’t meet the minimal requirements of functional fitness.
Functional fitness refers to a level of strength, endurance, cardiovascular efficiency, joint flexibility, and balance that enable us to carry out the activities of daily living easily. Functional fitness also reduces the risk of many major diseases and illnesses.
But is it safe for a senior to exercise? Check with your doctor, but you will probably find she is thrilled that you are finally doing something about your couch potato lifestyle. If you have a family history of heart disease, she may want to run some tests before you start exercising. Here are some basic cautions to take when exercising.
Don’t try to do too much too fast, easy does it
Exercise at an intensity appropriate to you
Pick activities that are fun, that suit your needs and that can be done year-round
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes
Take time to warm up and cool down. Stretch slowly
Don’t rely on your sense of thirst; drink water on a fixed schedule
There are two basic types of exercise: aerobic and strength training and seniors should do both. Aerobic exercise is good for the cardiovascular system, reduces blood pressure and cholesterol and raises good cholesterol while reducing the bad. Strength training increases muscle mass and many studies have shown that it also increases bone mass thus preventing or slowing down osteoporosis and bone fractures.
The best exercise for building bone mass is weight or load bearing exercise. These include weight lifting, jogging, hiking, stair climbing, step aerobics, dancing, racquet sports, and other activities that require your body to work against gravity. Swimming and simply walking are good for your cardiovascular system but not for building bone. The benefits of this type of exercise are also shown to reduce signs and symptoms of:
* Back pain
For optimal fitness seniors should do one half hour of aerobic exercise and one half-hour of weight bearing exercise but less is acceptable. Something is better than nothing.
When I went for my first day at the fitness center, I did not expect to see seniors zipping away at the stair masters and treadmills, doing reps with lots of weight, doing ab crunches with ease and speed. It was both intimidating and inspirational. If they could do it, so could I. I started with a reclining bicycle since I am overweight and my feet and back get tired when I’m upright. The bike was very cool—it showed me how many calories I was burning, how many miles I rode, my heart rate, how many watts I was creating. I use this bike every day for my aerobic exercises. I use all the weight machines that have easily adjustable weights and I have found muscles I didn’t even know I had.
I enjoy going to the fitness center every day and don’t have to push myself to do it. After only a month I can see and feel results. I’ve lost a few pounds and gained strength and energy. This is definitely the gift that keeps on giving.
Seniors who are interested in exercising in a fitness center should first check out their local senior center. If they don’t have a center, almost all YMCAs have them at a fairly reasonable cost. If you can afford it and are not intimidated by all the hard bodies, there are multitudes of fitness centers.
You should check out several before joining one to see if they meet your needs and that you are comfortable with them.