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As we age, many of us fall into patterns of unhealthy behavior. Slowly over time, one distraction after another pushes us away from regular exercise and activity. Many distractions are unavoidable such as a busy work schedule, family, or other responsibilities. And often health problems become barriers or distractions to an active lifestyle.

Regardless of age or current fitness level, exercise is not only possible but also beneficial.

Does this scenario feel familiar? In your teens and twenties, you were active all the time and engaged in sports and regular exercise. As you got older, those activities got replaced with cutting grass, washing the car, chasing after the kids. Before you know it, you realize it’s been a long time since you “really” exercised!

Many of the people I’ve encountered over the years finally realize this after they have a health scare such as a heart attack or heart surgery.

In conversations with people in this position, I always notice that they speak of being physically active like it’s a thing of the past and there’s no way it can happen now. Certainly the best approach for our health is to maintain our fitness over the course of our lifetime. Maintaining fitness is much easier and provides more benefits than trying to “catch up” later in life from the beginning.

But if you’ve sat on the sidelines for some time, there’s plenty of research showing that regardless of age or current fitness level, exercise is not only possible but also beneficial. If you’ve been inactive for a decade or more, research shows it’s absolutely possible to come back and get in great shape in your 50s, 60s, and 70s. One study published the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed beginning a physical fitness program later in life provides health benefits and is associated with healthier aging. Looking specifically at cardiac health one often cited study shows that regardless of age physical activity reduces cardiac mortality while more vigorous activity provides even greater benefits.

So what steps can you take to begin exercise after being inactive for some time?

1. Check in with Your Doctor

This will allow him or her to ensure you are healthy and ready to resume activity. Some doctors will have good advice for resuming an exercise routine regardless of age and they can reassure you of the benefits and little risk of becoming active once again.

2. Set Realistic Expectations

Even though most exercise recommendations promote five to six days a week and up to 180 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, that doesn’t mean you need to reach those goals in a hurry. Remember it’s been a while since you’ve exercised, so take your time. Starting out gradually, exercising a few days per week is great. In no time you’ll find that three to five days per week isn’t only possible, you look forward to it!

3. Invest in a Good Pair of Walking Shoes

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen shoes that appear to be 20 to 30 years old walking on a treadmill. Not only do our bodies change over time but also so do our feet. If you haven’t worn those shoes in a number of years consider getting a new pair that will cushion and protect your feet. You don’t need a fancy pair of expensive shoes either. You and your feet will be thankful for the upgrade!

4. Keep Exercise Simple

Walking, cycling, and swimming are great options if you enjoy them, but stick with the basics for a while. The idea here is learn to walk before you run. No need to jump into a spinning class or start jogging half of the block when you’re walking. Keep it simple for a few months, focusing on the amount of time you exercise and days per week rather than intensity.

5. Find a Partner

One of the bigger concerns with seniors related to exercise is safety. Finding someone to walk with or a gym buddy is not only motivating but also comforting. The more comfortable we are the more likely we will continue to exercise.

6. Find Your Place

Another big hurdle for people who haven’t exercised is accessibility. This can mean a safe place to walk, a convenient adult-focused fitness center or some basic equipment to use at home. This is where supportive family can be a significant help. Friends or family can help you purchase items to promote fitness like an MP3 player, pedometer, bicycle or gym membership. Often these are accessories that might not buy on your own, but can go a long way to make fitness more attainable and fun.

7. Overcoming Injury and Physical Limitations

Physical limitations such as an injured back or a painful knee can be a major hurdle for many adults looking to be more active. When facing a physical or medical limitation, speaking with your doctor about a referral to a medical-based fitness center can be amazing. Beyond understanding fitness, a medical fitness center will fully understand your medical issues and how to manage your return to fitness while adjusting to your medical issues. In my experience there are very few medical situations where someone can’t exercise to some degree. It can be more about finding the right therapist or exercise physiologist who knows how to work with your current situation.

What suggestions might you have for someone wanting to start exercising for the first time in several decades?



Contributed by

Phil Hardesty
Exercise Physiologist

Have a healthy, happy and fit week!!

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