How can older people stay physically fit?

Staying fit is about being active. As you get older, barriers to fitness start to creep in to the equation. Depending on specific restrictions, there are alternatives to help keep you active. One example would be aquatic training. Swimming and running in the water requires no impact and attacks cardio and resistance training. 

 If you are in good shape when you hit 60, you will probably be able to out-perform most of todays’  20-year-olds, as long as your bones and joints hold out. Some of my 60 plus- year-old clients are still bicycling, rollerblading, and boogie boarding. One client, a 63-year-old senior executive, decided he wanted to climb Kilimanjaro. I did not discourage him because I knew he was in the best shape of his life. I enjoyed the photo he sent of himself, standing proudly at the summit – but I enjoyed even more his e-mail that read, “I am a successful climber/summitter of the big mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro! In fact, I was in better shape for this kind of activity than all 26 people … rivaled only by a 25-year-old.”    

 My mom and stepfather were in their late 50’s, when they bicycled 9,749 miles across the United States and back again. They averaged 60 miles per day and carried all the gear they would need in order to camp out if they ever had to stop unexpectedly for the night. They bicycled into my driveway seven months later, followed by television camera crews and newspaper reporters. My mother, now 20 pounds lighter, said to the press, “I feel more like 38 than 58.” I hope by sharing these examples I have inspired you, and shown that your age shouldn’t hold you back. It is only poor physical condition that can, and will.

 In each of the cases strength training played a major role and should be included in every exercise program.  

If you have not been working out on a regular basis, you will want to have a physical  and approval from your physician.  Once your physician gives the "go ahead," older people can stay fit pretty much the same way as anyone at any age with some added precautions.  I work with many people over the age of 50 and as old as 95.  The types of exercise I recommend for aerobic endurance include walking, swimming and cycling.  I take my clients through various resistance training workouts utilizing machines, free weights and tubing.

All exercises should be kept low impact.  After the age of about 40, I recommend that people do NOT perform any exercises that place a load on their spine (i.e. loading a barbell or other form of weight on your shoulders).  Even if you have not been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis, the risk of spinal injury is higher than in the younger generation.

A few helpful hints in order to remain motivated include:
  • Choose activities that you enjoy,
  • Make physical activity a daily routine,
  • Start out slow so you do not end up too sore.  Soreness can be a major deterrent in keeping with an exercise program,
  • Exercise with a friend who has the same goals and is at about the same fitness level as you.

One of the main components the older population needs in their daily routine to stay physically fit is to get (and stay) moving. Functional fitness is an excellent exercise program and way of life for people of all ages, especially the above 50 years of age population. There are a variety of fitness programs and clubs for seniors whose activities are geared towards functional health.

Other beneficial options would be walking inside of a mall or park, choosing the stairs over the elevator, or playing with the grandchildren. You're only as old as you feel!!! So adapting functional fitness as a lifestyle is a step in the right direction towards staying physically fit for life. 

Doing aerobics, walking, and other activities that might have been easy when you were younger may become more difficult as we age. Remaining active is important, but not always easy. However, there are things you can do, even if your activity is restricted due to arthritis, heart issues, shortness of breath, or other restrictions.

Before going into some of the activities, I want to remind you that you need to start slow if you have not been active, see your physician to be sure there are no restrictions beyond how you feel as you exercise, and don't do it if it hurts. If there is a Silver Sneakers program in your area, check it out. Yoga has been helpful for many older adults. There are DVD's available for chair exercises that include strength and stretching exercises. If standing hurts or your leg movements are restricted, chair yoga might help. Check out the Internet if you have a computer, there are examples of exercises that are safe on the Internet. Water aerobics, if they are available in your area, is a great way to exercise. If walking is not difficult, get out and walk the mall or walk around your neighborhood. Find ways to keep yourself active and moving. And remember, if it hurts, stop, rest, and then continue. Even exercising for 10 minutes at a time is beneficial.


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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.