How To Exercise As You Get Older

One day it hits you. Maybe when you see a runner racing down the road, or your kid slide into third base. You think, I used to be able to do that.

As we age, and as we absorb increased professional and personal demands, regular exercise can dwindle to an occasional pursuit or even a distant memory.

The realization sends people in opposite directions. Some are driven to return to exercise with a vengeance and begin running five miles every morning, aiming for old times. Others lament and accept that their previous fitness regimen is a lost cause.

Which is better? Actually, experts say neither tactic is ideal.

The dive-in tactic often leads to injuries stemming from the fierce and abrupt return to exercise. So, if you suddenly Zumba ’til you drop, you might need a crane to get your aching body out of bed in the morning so you can hobble to the chiropractor’s office.

Alternatively, the lamenting tactic often leads to even more sedentary behavior. With that approach, you might someday need a crane just to get yourself off the sofa.

The best tactic as age begins to slow you down is to avoid the cranes altogether and adopt a moderate approach.

“The key is to move,” says Jacquie Szachara, who teaches at Evolution Pilates in Pittsford, where many of her clients are middle age or older. “Make your exercise program about you in the present, not you in the past or you in the future.”

That means exercising at a sustainable pace rather than trying to keep up with the class. Time and personal constraints can hamper opportunities to exercise, which is why simply going for a walk is often the best exercise strategy.

“Start at 30 seconds a day and then double it each day until you reach 30 minutes a day,” says Dr. Wallace Johnson, director of UR Medicine Primary Care Network.

With this plan, you achieve the time goal by day 10. Dr. Johnson also recommends walking at a pace of three to four miles per hour. To assess your pace, use a “speak-sing” test: “A good aerobic level is reached when you can talk during exercise but it would be difficult to sing.”

Strive for four

Some people might hear “moderate approach” and think they should limit the types of exercise they do. Free weights are out, right? Not so.

Any program should include the four prongs of exercise: cardio, strength, flexibility and balance.

The first two help keep your heart healthy and your muscles strong. The final two help keep your body limber and coordinated, which can prevent injuries.

And remember: Exercise is not the same as physical activity, which includes movement amid the course of daily life, such as taking the stairs or gardening. Any movement is good, but the amount that comes from regular activity doesn’t elevate most people beyond the level of sedentary.

Planned, repeated exercise is what will increase muscle tone, stamina and overall health, all while sharpening cognitive functioning. (All experts say it’s important to check with a doctor to determine how much exercise is right for you.)

The importance of aerobic exercise is well established. The Harvard School of Public Health defines aerobic as “any activity that causes a noticeable increase in your heart rate.” (Good news for those of us who thought we had to reach the point of sucking wind to benefit from it.)