Seniors and Fitness, Part 2: Tips to Keep You Active and Safe


IstockphotoLast week I wrote about several new studies showing the benefits of regular exercise for older adults. But only about a third of people age 65 and older exercise, reports the National Center for Health Statistics. Many are hesitant to start working out, especially if they've been sedentary for a long time or have preexisting health complications to worry about.

So how do you get your loved ones up and into a routine that they'll stick with? Here are some tips to get them started.

Seniors—as with anyone who starts a regular exercise program—are more likely to stick to a program that they enjoy, and that provides social interaction as well as fitness benefits. In the University of Kansas study, for instance, not one participant dropped out of the walking group, researchers reported, because they were having fun and making friends. Look for senior fitness groups in your community, or for fitness clubs specifically for older adults—a growing trend that USA Today and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review both reported on this month.

Talk to your doctor if you or a loved one has specific health concerns that might make exercise difficult or intimidating, or if you require an individualized program. For example, heart-attack survivors can order a free Heartfelt For Life DVD containing low-impact, easy-to-do exercises developed by heart surgeon Mehmet Oz, MD.

Even for healthy seniors, safety may still be a concern. The American Senior Fitness Association has these tips and more to help you get your loved ones up and moving.

  • First, obtain medical clearance to exercise. Stop if you feel pain, and don't exercise when you're injured, sick, or running a temperature.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise. Avoid heavy meals for about two hours before energetic exercise.
  • Use sunscreen, hats, visors, and sunglasses during outdoor daytime exercise. Think safety at all times: Should you be wearing fluorescent colors? Is it too cold, too wet, too stormy, too polluted, too hot, and/or too humid for safe exercise? Use the right equipment and wear the right clothes for exercise—dress in layers, wear fabrics that allow heat to escape, and wear good shoes.
  • Work at an effective, yet comfortable, intensity level. You should be able to carry on a normal conversation while working out.
  • Stop exercise and consult your physician immediately if you experience chest pain or tightness in the chest, neck, or throat; considerable difficulty breathing; abnormal heart rhythm; nausea, dizziness, light-headedness, or visual interruption; excessive cold sweat; or extreme or lasting weakness or fatigue after exercise.