How Can Older People Get Active?

Rest and relaxation are among the benefits of an exercise routine. So is cardiovascular conditioning.

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I'm an older adult, and I've heard (and heard) the message that I should have a regular exercise program, but I've just never gotten into it. How do I seriously get started? And what should I hope to accomplish?

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Exercise can be used in three general ways: (1) rest and relaxation, (2) muscle building and body shaping, and (3) cardiovascular/pulmonary conditioning. For older people, I would recommend focusing on Nos. 1 and 3. Consider the known benefits of exercise when you are contemplating starting into a program. The most common reason people continue exercising is that it "makes them feel good." Studies show that regular exercisers are less depressed and less hypochondriacal, have an improved self-image, have a more positive attitude toward life, and have fewer somatic [physical] complaints.

Take a self-inventory. If you admit to having some of those problems, that might be the stimulus to get you "off the couch." Psychological benefits aside, the cardiovascular and health benefits are enormous, even for older people. Collectively getting 30 minutes of some type of activity most days of the week has been shown to reduce all causes of death by 58 percent and has the potential to increase your life span up to six years. In one study of 59 healthy sedentary volunteers ages 60 to 79, if they walked 45 minutes daily for three months, they showed an 11 percent improvement in mental test scores and significant improvement in brain function. Remember, as I like to say, that "fitness is a journey, not a destination, and it must be continued for the rest of your life."

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