Why should I exercise?

Exercise has many benefits. Exercise can help you:

  • Maintain a healthy weight or help you reach your weight loss goals.
  • Reduce the likelihood of gaining weight as you age.
  • Keep your bones strong and healthy.
  • Lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels
  • Reduce the risk of chronic (long-term) conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
  • Reduce stress and improve the quality of your sleep.
  • Maintain a higher level of cardiovascular (heart) fitness, movement, strength, and flexibility.
  • Improve the stereotypical image of aging.

What is the difference between activities of daily living and structured exercise?

Activities of daily living (ADLs) are the activities you do on a regular basis that can help to burn calories, maintain strength and agility, and keep active. Examples of ADLs include washing the car, gardening, raking leaves, washing dishes, vacuuming, etc. These activities do not necessarily count as exercise.

Be sure to note the difference between these ADLs and structured exercises. You need both types of movement in order to get the highest level of physical activity. Structured exercise includes activities that are specifically geared toward a purpose, such as improving cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility, or balance and agility.

There are specific definitions as to what exercise is. Some activities may fit into both categories (exercise and ADLs) based on how intense the activity is, and how long you do it. One example of an activity that fits both categories is walking while mowing the lawn.

How do I get started on an exercise program?

Before starting an exercise program, it is important to talk with your doctor to learn if you have any limitations with regard to exercise. Exercise can be safe for almost anyone. However, certain limitations may be placed on people who suffer from chronic conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain pulmonary (lung) conditions, among others.

Here are some tips to get you started on an exercise program:

  1. Building an exercise routine takes time. Slowly include exercise into your weekly routine, starting with a reasonable amount you can build on. Eventually, you should be able to build in some type of physical activity into every day.

  2. Decide which activities you enjoy. Exercise should be fun! Finding activities that interest you are important because you are more likely to keep doing them in the long run.

  3. Try something new. There are many new forms of exercise that are becoming more popular and accessible. When possible, try some of the new fitness trends. Also, changing your routine on occasion and trying new things will help prevent boredom and make you more likely to continue to be active.

  4. If your exercise routine is mainly done outdoors, make sure that you have a back-up plan for bad weather.

  5. Plan for consistency. Exercise benefits are best seen if you can keep up your routine with as little interruption as possible.

  6. Everyone has a different tolerance for exercise. If you start having feelings of burnout, re-evaluate your routine. Make changes that you feel can be maintained. You can add more once you feel more comfortable with your routine.

What are the parts of an exercise program?

There are 4 main parts of a well-rounded exercise program:

  • Cardiovascular exercises (aerobic exercise)
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Flexibility exercises
  • Balance and agility exercises

What are aerobic exercises?

Aerobic exercise helps to improve heart and lung function. Walking, swimming, running, biking, dancing, and hiking are just a few examples of aerobic exercise. The benefits of aerobic exercise include:

  • Lower cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Increased endurance
  • A lower resting heart rate
  • Weight loss or maintenance
  • Stress relief
  • Improved sleep

Aerobic exercise should be performed for 30 minutes, five to seven days per week. If time management is an issue, or poor endurance is an issue, break the 30 minutes into three sessions of 10 minutes each.

What are strengthening exercises?

Strength or resistance exercises can help to maintain strong bones, break some of the stereotypes associated with aging, increase metabolism (the conversion of food into energy), and help you reach and stay at higher level of functioning. Resistance exercises can include the use of:

  • Machine or free weights
  • Exercise balls
  • Hand weights or bands
  • Different types of exercises (such as Pilates or calisthenics)

Strength exercises for general fitness should be performed two times per week for every major muscle group. Larger muscle exercises that use several joints, such as lunges or bench presses, should be spaced out to provide three to four days of rest in between sessions. For smaller muscle exercises, you only need as little as one day of rest in between sessions.

What are flexibility exercises?

There are many different reasons why stretching is important. Flexibility is an important fitness component that helps keep your range of motion (the degree to which you are able to move your joints) pain-free. If you have any orthopedic disorders, your caregivers may recommend flexibility exercises that are tailored to your condition.

For general fitness, however, it is important to stretch either after exercise or when you are not exercising so that your muscles are generally not “cold.” Stretching before exercise is no longer recommended. However, a proper warm-up of a lower-intensity cardiovascular exercise is very important.

Stretching can be performed every day, or several times a day, depending on the recommendations of your therapists. Yoga and tai chi can also help with stretching. Ballistic stretching (bouncing during a stretch) is not recommended.

In static stretching, a stretch is held for a specific length of time, usually several seconds to half a minute, and repeated. Dynamic stretching is a method of stretching in which the body is moving fluidly while attempting to improve flexibility.

Ask your doctor or therapist which methods of flexibility are appropriate for you.

What are balance/agility exercises?

Balance and agility are important not only in athletic performance, but also in general fitness. The aging process can have a negative impact on balance. It is never too early to try to improve balance and agility.

Depending on any limitations you may have, not all exercises to improve balance may be appropriate for you. More basic or beginner levels of balance include standing on one foot, walking heel to toe, or standing on your toes. Tai chi is also an excellent balance exercise for beginner and intermediate balance abilities, or for those with chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis.

Intermediate levels of balance exercise may also include using the exercise ball, performing basic exercises with your eyes closed, or performing one-legged exercises. More advanced exercises include an exercise ball and the BOSU® ball. Talk with your therapist to determine your ability level and for suggestions to help improve balance and agility.

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