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Getting old isn’t for sissies. Suddenly, the metabolism seems to slow down to a snail’s pace. Muscles disappear, and new bulges appear where they once were. We develop new aches and ailments. As we age, the need to stay fit and healthy becomes non-negotiable. Isn’t it ironic that as we age, this very thing becomes far more complicated?
The best-case scenario would be to stay in shape throughout your adult life. If you haven’t done so, however, never fear. It’s not too late to start.
Get your doctor’s blessing: First priority is to consult your physician. Get the all clear to set out on the road to be the very best you can be.
Find your groove: What sort of exercise will suit you best? Remember, you need to enjoy it, or you won’t be committed.
Start off slowly: If you are going to be walking or doing any aerobic exercise, it’s vital to have a good pair of trainers. Go to a specialist sporting goods store, and let a sales assistant assess your needs. The best walking shoes should offer good support for your arches and combat any tendency to pronate. There should be a decent cushion to absorb impact.
Try a brisk walk: Take a friend or two along, so that you can chat as you walk. Your pace needs to be quick enough to increase the heart rate; but not so quick that you can’t chat without losing your breath. Set short term goals, such as walking 2km on the first few days, then increasing every three or four days until you are walking 5 to 6km. Once a week, you could try pushing it to 10km, but only once you’re comfortably walking 6km. Be sure to change it up. Walk a route one way for a day or two, then reverse it. Be sure to incorporate more hills as you get stronger. Walk in your neighbourhood one week, and your friend’s the next. Keep it interesting. Try a walk on the beach – the soft sand gives your legs and feet a good workout. Remember to take water along with you, to keep yourself hydrated and prevent cramps.
Cycle your way to health: Not the outdoor type? Hit the gym and ride the stationary bike. The bike is an excellent option if you battle with painful knees. Time your workouts and work at increasing the amount of time spent on the bike. Be sure to stand up and pedal at regular intervals, so you don’t get saddle sore. Standing up works a different group of muscles and increases effort. This will enhance your fitness level too.
Eat right: Experts agree that diet and nutrition have more to do with health and well-being than exercise. So why not age gracefully and do both? Try to eat whole foods as much as possible - fruits, vegetables, organic meats, nuts, etc. You may also want to consider mixing in a plant-based diet as this can help keep the pounds off, and, as an added bonus, can even mean you save money as you are not purchasing as much meat.
Strap on your fins: If you feel inclined, you could try the indoor pool. Most gyms require swimming caps for men and women, so be sure to take one along. If you haven’t swum in years, stick to the lane closest to the edge, in case you get winded or start cramping. You need to be able to hold onto the side while you catch your breath. Don’t stop for too long. As soon as you’ve caught your breath, set off again. Set goals for yourself, increasing by one or two laps at regular intervals. Try different strokes, doing a lap of freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke, then starting with freestyle again. Try using a pool noodle between your knees and using arms only for a lap or two. Then grab a kick board and do a few laps of kicking only. Swimming is an excellent way to exercise all muscle groups, including the core.
Strength and resistance training: If you’re not the cardio type, you might want to try Pilates or Tai Chi. These are both based on slow, deliberate movements and work on improving strength and flexibility. They do not involve high impact exercise and use resistance and body weight to strengthen and tone all muscle groups. This type of exercise is excellent for all ages. In fact, all of us could benefit from attending one or two classes a week, regardless of what other exercise we do. Despite being low impact, Pilates and Tai Chi still cause the heart rate to increase, thereby increasing fitness.
We could all benefit from weight bearing or resistance exercise, regardless of age. As we get older, we tend to lose bone mass. Weight bearing exercise helps to combat this process, keeping the bone density stable for longer. Strong muscles and strong bones will help to prevent injuries. Some gyms have a whole circuit of resistance based equipment, where the idea is to work on each machine for a minute or two, with a minute of gentle cardio between machines.
Hit the trails: Hiking is also a wonderful way to keep fit. Get a group together, or join your local hiking club. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of walking through nature, hearing the bird calls and breathing in the fragrance of the plants. If you’re a nature lover, this is the ideal way to keep fit and have fun doing it. Start out with shorter trails, until your muscles are stronger and you’re able to walk a good distance without becoming short of breath. Pack a few snacks and stop along the way to enjoy them.
Consistency is key: Try to keep to a routine. Aim to work out four or five times a week. It’s very important that you don’t overdo it on the first day, or you will be so stiff that you won’t be able to exercise effectively the next day.
Staying fit and healthy, as we age, is vitally important. But it’s equally important that you have fun while doing so. Find the activity that’s the best fit for your lifestyle and your personality. You may want to stick to one or two, or try them all. As long as you stay active, you’ll stay healthy. Regular exercise will also help to keep you positive and upbeat, since it releases endorphins into your bloodstream.
Our bodies were made to move. Getting older shouldn’t change that. We might need to slow down, or make slight adjustments to the type of exercise we do, but staying active is the best way to stay young at heart.