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Natural Awakenings Bucks and Montgomery Counties PA

Getting in Shape in Your 50s

by William J. Strimel

Even for those who haven’t exercised since high school gym class, it’s never too late to start. According to the Arthritis Foundation, it now appears that exercise—specifically, resistance training—actually rejuvenates muscle tissue in healthy, older adults.

Numerous difficulties of aging are linked to an inactive lifestyle. There is no better way to maintain good health in later life than through exercise. Aerobic exercise has consistently shown to lead to a variety of health benefits, including weight reduction, lower blood pressure, lessening of chronic pain and improvement in mood and energy levels. People who perform the least activity now have the most to gain from getting started. Going from sedentary to even mildly active can reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by almost 20 percent.

Before starting an exercise program, a doctor should be consulted. National guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health encourage 150 minutes—or two and a half hours—of aerobic exercise a week. This can include such activities as walking, swimming or cycling. A plan should be created to spend a half hour being active five days a week. Even daily activities like gardening, household chores and walking the dog help the body stay active and healthy.

Here are some fitness tips for people who want to start exercising:

  • Seek the help of a fitness expert. There are gyms with specialized senior fitness programs and personal trainers who specialize in working with older adults.
  • Look for ways to squeeze in fitness whenever and wherever possible. Choose stairs over the elevator, park at the far end of the parking lot, etc.
  • Warm up before exercise and stretch afterward. Easy walking at a very slow pace for about five minutes is one way to warm up or cool down. Stretching is an important part of flexibility and will help offset the effects of normal decline in the flexibility of joints with age.
  • Make proper form a priority. Any exercise done improperly can be dangerous. Bad form not only hinders results, but also increases risk of major injuries such as back problems.
  • Add strength training. Strength training is critical for older adults. Adults lose four to six pounds of muscle tissue per decade, which means a significant loss of body strength and a lower resting metabolism. Try to add some form of strength training two days a week for approximately 20 minutes. Low weight, high repetition is the best initial approach.
  • Know when it's time to make a change. Increase the amount of time or difficulty of exercise as things become easier. To experience continued improvement in fitness, the body requires progressively challenging workouts.
If there is any discomfort after exercising, it should be short-lived and not carry on for hours or days. Start out slow to see how the body handles this change in lifestyle.

William J. Strimel, DO, FACC, FACP, is a cardiologist and the director of cardiology at Mercy Suburban Hospital in East Norriton. Connect with him at 610-292-6520. Mercy Health System offers a free online heart risk assessment at August 2014.

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