Adults at every age need key exercises

Put together an exercise routine that includes strength, posture, balance and cardio training

My physical therapy patients often think they don’t need to exercise as hard as they get older. But that isn’t true. All adults should get regular intense exercise that works different parts of the body – and brain!

Exercise is very important for healthy aging. We want our bodies to have more muscle than body fat. Unfortunately, as we age we can lose up to 5 percent of our muscle mass and function every 10 years. Things like not enough physical activity, hormonal changes, high-calorie diets and poor nutrition affect our bodies and nervous system. It can be harder to stay as active as we want. Sometimes we simply aren’t motivated to keep up a regular exercise program, or exercise can be more challenging as we develop medical conditions.

The good news is that we often can change our attitudes and behaviors to improve our health now and in the future.

Every adult needs these exercises

Regular exercise keeps or builds muscle mass and helps manage weight. It also supports a healthy heart and lungs, and can reduce the risk for Type 2 diabetes. Regular exercise can also increase alertness and energy, maintain memory, and help you sleep better.

If you already do regular training, keep at it! If you’re new to exercise, have osteoporosis or concerns about your bone health, talk to your doctor first. Stay active and exercise as much as your body allows. Try making these exercises a regular part of your life.

Strength exercises using weights and/or resistance bands are essential for healthy muscles.

Frequency: Twice a week

What to do: Lift weights to make your chest, arms, upper back, upper legs, lower legs and core stronger. Choose one or two exercises for each major body part and do 10-15 repetitions twice for each exercise. Use body weight, elastic bands or free weights for resistance. You can use just 1- to 2-pound weights or lift things you have around your house like canned foods or bottles of water.

Tip: As you get stronger, keep yourself challenged. You’ll want to increase the weights or resistance when you get to the point where you can start and finish your routine easily. A challenging weight lifting routine should be between 5 and 8 in difficulty on a scale of 1 (easiest) to 10 (hardest).

Posture exercises promote good spinal alignment. A stooped posture can increase the risk of falling and fracturing the spine, especially for people who have osteoporosis. 

Frequency: Daily, multiple times

What to do: Exercise your core and upper back. Excellent options are: Pilates, yoga, shoulder blade squeezes, sitting tall in a chair, and standing tall against a wall. 

Tip: A physical therapist can work with you to create a posture exercise routine that best fits your needs.

Balance exercises are a workout for the body and mind. They’re critical to help prevent falls.

Frequency: Daily

What to do: Yoga, dance or Tai Chi. Stand on one foot while you’re doing daily routines like brushing your teeth, heating something in the microwave or waiting for your coffee to brew.

Tip: Choose an activity that is challenging but that you can perform safely. Don’t do an exercise that puts you at risk of falling.

Cardiovascular exercises are important for a healthy heart.

Frequency: 20 to 30 minutes a day so you have a total of 150 minutes a week 

What to do: You’ve heard it called “cardio,” and many activities will give you a good workout. Walking is great for nearly everyone; get extra arm and leg activity by using hiking poles. Higher-impact exercises include running, stairclimbing or tennis. Lower-impact exercises include aerobics, stationary or outdoor biking, swimming, and water aerobics.

Tip: During a good cardiovascular exercise, your heart will beat faster than usual. You’ll breathe heavily to the point where you can talk but not sing.

Use your Medicare plan’s wellness visit and fitness benefit

Your Medicare Annual Wellness Visit is a great time to discuss your exercise routine and how to reduce risk of falls.  The visit is free and an important way to check your health each year.

Some Medicare plans have a fitness benefit that helps pay for some or all of your gym membership or provides you with resources to be physically fit. Learn how the fitness benefit works. The programs often have specially trained instructors who teach classes adapted to the needs of older people.

More advice to keep exercise fun

Exercise can be a healthy activity. Follow these important guidelines so you don’t get hurt:

  • Always start exercising slowly. It’s normal to have some sore muscles for a day or two, but it’s not OK to have pain. Rest between exercise sessions so your muscles can recover. Keep at it, and your body will limber up and be less sore.
  • If you have a medical condition that limits your ability to exercise, like arthritis or lung disease, focus less on the intensity and just move as best you can to be active. Make sure you talk to your doctor about which exercises are right for you.
  • If you have osteoporosis, avoid high-impact activity that affects the bones. Don’t bend forward with force. These activities can increase your risk of fracture.
  • In addition to a doctor, a physical therapist can help create an exercise program that best meets your needs. They’ll modify exercises and show you the right form.
  • Decrease your risk of falls before starting exercise. Wear shoes that fit well not only for comfort but also to give you proper balance. Some medicines affect balance, so review your drug options with your doctor. 

There are many options to get exercise indoors or outdoors. Stick with something familiar, or explore something new for your routine. Work out solo or ask a friend to join you. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to make exercising a regular part of your daily activities.