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Use It or Lose It

While regular exercise is recommended for people of all ages, fitness and activity for as we get older is considered particularly important in maintaining health, longevity and reducing the risks associated with various ailments. The National Institute of Health reports that even moderate exercise and physical activity can improve the health of older adults who are frail or who have diseases that accompany aging and states that older adults often hurt their health far more by not exercising than by exercising. As most people age they lose the ability to do things on their own. Most of us think this is just a product of getting older; actually, it is a product of doing less as we age. Since vigorous exercise may seem daunting to older adults who already suffer from health conditions and general aches and pains, fitness for older adults often varies from fitness for younger people.

Older adults need to focus on endurance, strength, balance and flexibility. Endurance exercises such as walking, swimming, and biking strengthen the heart and circulatory system. Aerobic exercises may help older adults lose or maintain weight, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and improve balance and coordination. All of these benefits of exercise are helpful in fighting against stroke and coronary disease.

Strength exercises may seem quite difficult for aging bodies but are an integral part of fitness for older adults. Older adults can safely engage in resistance or weight lifting exercises to help gain strength and prevent the loss of lean muscle. Starting at the age of 30, an inactive person can lose between .5% to 1% of their lean muscle, and that number doubles at the ages of 60, 70, 80, and 90. A structured strength-training program can help prevent and reverse any lean muscle loss. Light weight-lifting and other muscle-building activities help to reduce muscle loss that occurs naturally from aging, promoting independence and reducing the need for a cane or other walking aids. Strength training can help promote gains in muscles around the joints, which can lead to a decrease in pain and discomfort. Additionally the proper strength exercises can lessen the risk of injuries and bone fractures and promote quick healing of many already incurred injuries.

Flexibility and balance exercises are particularly important for older adults. Proper stretching helps improve flexibility, and balancing exercises help reduce the risk of falling. Intense physical activity is not always necessary for older adults, but moderate exercise is considered essential for good health. In order to prevent pain and discomfort, older adults may find it helpful to warm-up slowly, gradually increase the intensity of exercise, and maintain a flexibility or stretching program. Maintaining flexibility is also important in balance; the more range of motion a joint has the easier it is to move. Besides improving balance and range of motion, flexibility decreases the risk of injury when an accident occurs, such as falling.

Consult their physician or health care provider. Exercise is not only for the young, but the young at heart as well.

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Boomers Resource Guide is a special supplement to the Senior Citizen's Guide