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.
  • Maintain bone mass.
  • Lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
  • Reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
  • Reduce stress and improve the quality of sleep.
  • Maintain a higher level of cardiovascular fitness, mobility, strength, flexibility, and improves 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 these include washing the car, gardening, raking leaves, washing dishes, vacuuming, etc. These activities do not necessarily count as exercise. Be sure to note the distinction in these ADLs as compared to structured exercises. You need both types of movement in order to maintain an optimal level of physical activity.

Structured exercise includes activities specifically geared toward a purpose, usually to improve cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility, or balance and agility. There are specific definitions as to what constitutes exercise. Some activities may fit into both categories (exercise and ADLs) based on the intensity and duration. One example of an activity fitting both categories would be walking while mowing the lawn.

How do I get started?

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

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

Determine what activities you enjoy. Exercise should not be looked at primarily as a chore. Finding activities that interest you are important because you are more likely to maintain them long term. 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. Changing your routine and trying new things can help prevent boredom.

Make sure that if your exercise routine is primarily outdoors you are able to have a back-up plan for bad weather.

You should plan for consistency. Exercise benefits are best seen if the routine is maintained with minimal disruption. Everyone has a different tolerance for exercise. If you start experiencing feelings of burnout, reevaluate your routine. Make changes that you feel can be maintained. You can add more later once you feel more comfortable with your routine.

Components of an exercise program

There are 4 main components of a well-rounded exercise program. These are:

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

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, 5 to 7 days per week. If time management is an issue, or poor endurance is an issue, break the 30 minutes into 3 sessions of 10 minutes each.

Strengthening exercises

Strength or resistance exercises can help to maintain strong bones, break some of the stereotypes associated with aging, increase metabolism, and help to achieve or maintain a higher level of function. 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 2 times per week for every major muscle group. Larger muscle exercises using several joints, such as lunges or bench presses, should be spaced out to provide 3 to 4 days of rest in between sessions. Smaller muscle exercises require as little as one day of rest in between sessions.

Strength training is based on the overload principle. If you feel as though your muscles have not been strained, then chances are they have not. Talk with your therapist or allied health provider to determine what resistance exercises are safe for you, and what weight or resistance is appropriate.

Flexibility exercises

Flexibility is an important fitness component that helps to maintain pain-free range-of-motion. There are many different reasons why stretching is important, and orthopedic issues may include different recommendations specific to any conditions you may have. For general fitness, however, it is important to stretch either after exercise or independent of exercise so that your muscles are generally "not cold." It is no longer recommended to stretch prior to exercise. However, a proper warm-up of a lower-intensity cardiovascular exercise is imperative.

Stretching can be performed daily, or several times a day, depending on the recommendations of your therapists. Yoga and tai chi can also help with stretching. Ballistic stretching (or bouncing during a stretch) is not recommended. Static stretching is when 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 where the body is moving fluidly while attempting to improve flexibility. Ask your therapist which methods of flexibility are appropriate for you.

Balance/agility exercises

Balance and agility are important not only in athletic performance, but also in general fitness. Balance can be negatively impacted by the aging process. It is never too early to try and improve balance and agility to negate this aspect of aging. 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. 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 many exercise ball exercises 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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