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Seniors Fitness – Dial In Your Fitness Starting Point
Senior fitness is an essential part of healthy senior living and can make a big difference in quality of life as you experience your golden years. Getting in shape, and/or staying in shape in your senior years helps you stay healthier, stronger and less likely to sustain major injuries from falls, etc.
But to get started, you need to compose your starting point in order to chart your ability path forward. The first step for any cautious senior is a complete physical by your family doctor or another licensed health care professional. This step is necessary to let you know of any pre-existing conditions that may affect your exercise regimen or nutrition plan.
The second step in getting ready to start is deciding what you want to achieve in the short, medium and long term. Are there areas of your current health, fitness or physical imbalance that need to be addressed first? Is it necessary to build up your cardiovascular system before you start lifting weights, or do you have mobility or flexibility issues that need to be addressed before you can freely start strengthening your body?
Building strength, increasing bone density, increasing flexibility and increasing endurance are all reasonable goals in any senior fitness endeavor – but it’s important to remember this is a lifestyle change, a marathon if you will, not a sprint. It’s best to take small steps forward over time, evolving into a full healthy lifestyle over time.
Rushing the process can lead to injury, burnout and worse, and it can be very demotivating if you suddenly slam up against a level of exercise you are not ready for.
A tip: before starting an exercise routine, even a simple one for seniors, be sure to address issues regarding your sleep patterns and nutrition. Are you sleeping 7-9 hours a day? If you have trouble getting more than 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night, try adding a nap each afternoon to make up the difference. Your body does most of its healing while you sleep, so this is a great first step toward true senior fitness.
Once this is under control and routine, do a little research online or at your local library to plan a healthy diet to follow, both for general health and optimal recovery from upcoming workouts. The most important concern here is to get enough protein, because too little protein from a reduced appetite in the elderly is believed to be one of the factors in muscle wasting related to age known as sarcopenia.
Once sleep and nutrition begin to compound, you can start your exercise routine as simply going for a walk every day when the time allows. Stop fretting, but work on going a little further each day, whether it’s another half-block in town or another telephone pole on a country road. Keep track of how far you walk each day – you’ll be surprised how quickly your range increases as your body gets used to it.
The next step is to start your resistance training – weight work is perhaps the most important part of any strength training for seniors. Start lighter than you think you need – remember, your body is not used to using each and every muscle every day and it will take a while to get used to it. You may be a bit sore the next day after training, in large part because a full range of motion stretches the muscles and ligaments more than they are used to.
Using bands or dumbbells, choose an exercise for each body part to begin with, using compound exercises when possible. (A compound exercise is one that involves more than one joint, such as the shoulder and elbow or hip and knee.) Do one set of 8-10 repetitions of each exercise the first day, keeping it very light, and see how you feel. the next day. If all is well, add a second set of each exercise to your routine on the third day, and a third set on the fifth day if all is still well.
Stick with the 3 sets per exercise for the next month or 6 weeks, working every other day or any three non-consecutive days in a week. If it starts out easy to complete the third set of an exercise, try a small increase in weight for that exercise on the next workout, slowly working your way back up to completing 8-10 reps for 3 sets.
At this time, you have composed your starting point and your senior fitness routine is ready to start in earnest. Depending on your goals and what’s right for you, your path will change over time. You may want to start adding in cardio sessions on your workout or off days if you’re looking to reduce body fat, you may want to add a second or third exercise for each body part if you’re looking to focus on building and toning muscle, or you may safely work towards heavier and heavier weights if building strength is the actual goal of your plan.
But whatever your strategy, know that you’re building a happier and healthier life for your later years, and extending your chances of waking up every day ready to take on the world. In many ways, senior fitness is the best investment you can make in yourself!
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