A Workout Plan for Seniors

To gain the age-defying benefits, here's what you have to do.

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If you think you need to slow down as your body starts to age, think again. Seniors who maintain their physical fitness or who start exercising even after years of being sedentary can reap big rewards: less physical frailty, dementia, heart disease, arthritis, and other "signs" of aging. To get these payoffs, they should follow new exercise guidelines issued last August by the American College of Sports Medicine and American Heart Association.

Rx for aerobic exercise: The guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (running, walking, swimming, biking) five days a week. Those who do vigorous workouts that cause a big increase in heart rate and heavy breathing should aim for a minimum of 20 minutes, three days a week.

Rx for weight training: Two to three workouts per week of all major muscle groups on nonconsecutive days at a weight that allows 10 to 15 repetitions per set are recommended. Muscle-strengthening activities include exercises with free weights, resistance bands, or weight machines as well as sit-ups, push-ups, and pull-ups.

Rx for flexibility and balance: At least 10 minutes a day should be devoted to stretching and balance exercises, like yoga, Pilates, and tai chi. For flexibility, all major muscles and tendons should be stretched for 10 to 30 seconds, without bouncing back and forth, repeating three to four times for each stretch.