The most common New Year’s resolutions people make are to lose weight and be healthier.
It’s well known that exercise helps prevent or decrease the severity of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, anxiety, depression and it can also delay the onset of memory loss and some forms of dementia. However, an older person who wants to resolve to be healthier in 2013 faces the added pressure of making sure it’s done safely and in a way that won’t cause health complications over time.
The advice to anyone who starts a new exercise program or a change in diet is to always talk to a doctor first. All doctors will be happy a patient wants to make healthier choices, but they will have advice that is specific for you on what you should and should not do. For example, a person with a history of heart disease should be careful about lifting too much; a person with arthritis won’t want to start playing tennis; and a person with a lung condition will not want to start running if their route takes them through polluted areas.
Here is a list of 13 ways for seniors to exercise safely in 2013, making sure they get the maximum benefits for their efforts:
- Start slow – Everyone wants to be the fit person who can run for miles right away, but that simply doesn’t happen overnight. Starting too fast can be dangerous for an older person because they can suffer an injury, or the sudden change in activity can exacerbate an existing chronic condition. Additionally, it’s easy to give up when you try and get a fast start and can’t meet your own expectations. Starting slow makes sure you set smaller goals that are easier to reach and that keeps an exercise plan on track.
- Know what is safe for you – Once again, before you start any exercise routine, it is always a good idea to check with a medical professional on what you can and cannot do safely. If you have an underlying condition, a doctor can give you tips on which exercises won’t make that condition worse. A medical professional can also talk about any stretches or warm-ups you should do before starting a workout.
- Find what works for you to create a routine – The most important part of exercise is to keep doing it. If you start out by doing something you don’t enjoy, you won’t stick with it. By finding something you are willing to do regularly – and you miss when you don’t do it – you’ve created a regimen that provides more benefit over time. It could be laps in a swimming pool, walking on a treadmill while watching television, or a series of jumping jacks and pushups. If it’s something you will stick with, then that is the best exercise for you.
- Don’t over exert yourself – When you are exercising, it’s easy to set unrealistic goals. Then you work too hard and put too much strain on your body. This can have several detrimental consequences. First, you could injure yourself. Respect your own limits and know they may get higher over a long period of time. Second, when you push too hard it will make it that much harder for you to continue your routine. Exercise should not be something you dread, it needs to be something you look forward to.
- Use proper equipment and understand what you are doing – This is especially important if you go to a gym. There are many different types of equipment and if you are new to the environment, they may all seem like unwieldy contraptions. Don’t be afraid to ask gym staff for guidance – that is why they are there. The more you understand how to use gym equipment, the safer it is for you. If you try to figure it out on your own, there’s a good chance you can injure yourself, sometimes severely.
- Don’t overdo it when you’re sick – When you are sick your body does not have the stamina it normally does. This means a workout tires you out much faster and can make you feel even worse. It’s perfectly acceptable to take breaks from your workout routine when you need. Listen to your body – if it isn’t doing well, it probably means you need to rest so when you do feel better you can continue your workouts.
- Don’t let being sick stop you from exercising – Just as it’s important to know you’re your body needs a break, you should not let a cold be an excuse to keep you from making your entire body healthy. If you feel like a workout won’t aggravate your sniffles, try to maintain your routine. A new exercise routine is hard to work into your life. It will take a while before it gets to the point where it’s a normal part of your day. If you let a cold keep you away from it for too long, it’s more likely you won’t get back to it.
- Stop right away if there is discomfort or something is wrong – You need to make sure you do not severely injure yourself while you exercise. As we get older, our bodies become more delicate and something you used to be able to do with ease can now have dire consequences. If it doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t. While some aches and pains come with a new exercise routine, sharp or stabbing pain could be signs of serious damage. Once again, listen to your body.
- Make sure you warm up and cool down – If your muscles and ligaments are not used to exercise, they need preparation. Stretch them out before you start your routine. These stretches are not hard and do not take much time. Gym staff and/or your doctor can guide you. Additionally, they can help you understand a good way to let your body cool down after a workout. Exercise isn’t just about running for 30 minutes, it’s also about letting the body ease in and out of times of higher stress.
- Drink plenty of fluids and drink the right type of fluids for you – When you exercise, your body burns through its nutrients first. That includes water and sodium. If you are new to exercise, you may be surprised at just how dehydrated an exercise routine can make you. It’s important to drink water because a dehydrated body is weaker and can make you more vulnerable to injuries. Additionally, your body may require something with more nutrients. If you take medication that lowers your blood pressure, discuss the use of a drink like Gatorade to give you the most benefit and keep you safe. Also know that alcohol can have a very detrimental effect in certain circumstances. There are many differing opinions as to the health risks and benefits of alcohol, so it’s also a good idea to discuss it with your physician.
- Don’t hold your breath – When you lift something heavy, do you find yourself holding your breath? Don’t do that while you exercise. Your body needs more oxygen when you put strain on it and holding your breath has the opposite effect. It’s better to breath continuously through an action. If you find yourself taking on so much strain that you need to hold your breath, you might want to consider a different form of exercise.
- Protect your back – For many people, it’s surprisingly easy to injure muscles in the back. Bending the wrong way or using the incorrect form during an exercise puts new and different pressure on those muscles. Ask an expert for tips on how to make sure you protect your back as you exercise. This doesn’t just include lifting with your knees (because that can hurt your knees as well). There are also specific stretches you can do before and after workouts to reduce the risk of back strain.
- Exercise with a friend – When you and another person exercise together it benefits both of you. It creates a routine for the two of you; you feel the responsibility to keep an appointment with someone; and you have a cheerleader when you struggle to maintain your routine. A companion during your workouts also creates a community for you while you both work to make your lives better.
New Year’s resolutions to exercise more often have a way of petering out as January wears on. To that end, the 20th Annual Healthy Weight Week is Jan. 20-26, just in time to give you that boost to keep working.
Additionally, older people may want to think outside the box for their exercise routines. Two good programs for seniors are Silver Sneakers (www.silversneakers.com) and Sit and Be Fit (www.sitandbefit.org).