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As an older person, how should I start an exercise program?

Older adults experience physiological changes and degeneration with age. A well-designed resistance training program can slow the changes and improve muscle strength, fiber recruitment, muscle size, and overall functional capacity. When performing starting an exercise program, you should follow some general guidelines: 
  • Wear appropriate attire when using selectorized equipment.
  • Do not start joint movement at angles that are beyond normal ROM when using selectorized equipment. 
  • Encourage deliberate breathing to avoid rapid increases in blood pressure.
  • Perform short, initial sets of exercise with little to no weight.
  • Perform exercises with proper technique and avoid compensation of other body parts.
  • Perform 1-3 sets of 8-20 repetitions, 3-5 days per week.
  • Begin strength training by performing exercises with lower weight and higher reps and slowly progressing to higher intensity exercise.

Regular physical activity will help keep you strong as you age, making it easier to remain active and be independent longer. For most older people, moderate activity is safe. Moderate physical activity should cause a slight increase in heart rate and breathing. It should feel somewhat challenging, but you should still be able to carry on a conversation without difficulty.

Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program for the first time. Your doctor can help you design a program that takes into account any physical limitations or medical conditions you have. A well-designed exercise program should be able to accommodate just about any special circumstances.

Build up your level of activity gradually to help prevent sore muscles or injury. Listen to your body, and don't try to do too much too soon. If something is painful or seems impossibly difficult, ease up or find a less intense activity.

Three Tips to Get Started:

  • Block out some walking time. Walk around the block each morning or every evening after dinner. Walking is a simple and effective way to be active. You don't need any special equipment, just sturdy walking shoes. If you are worried about hurting yourself, recruit a friend, family member, or neighbor to walk with you. Having someone close by who can assist you, if needed, can bring peace of mind.
  • Focus on your flexibility. You may benefit greatly from flexibility exercises and can spend more time doing these and less time doing cardio, if you prefer. And strength and flexibility exercises can help protect you from injury. Simple stretches work fine. For some variety, find out whether your local community center offers dance classes for older adults. Dancing can build balance, flexibility, strength, and aerobic fitness. You can also build balance skills with either instructional videos or structured classes on yoga or t’ai chi.
  • Seek water. Swimming and aqua aerobics are good options if you have aching joints, arthritis, or certain physical limitations. Water activities can build aerobic fitness, muscle strength, and flexibility. And because the water supports most of your weight, water activities won't be jarring on your joints.

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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.