It is important to tailor an exercise program to fit your own ability and special needs. Any one who has been inactive for many years should not try to do too much too soon.
To build muscle strength, move muscles against resistance. This can be done by lifting weights, working out on machines, or doing routines such as pushing against a wall. Take at least one day of rest between weight work outs so muscles can recover.
Without strength building exercises to tone up muscles and keep in shape, most people will become flabby. Although body weight may remain the same, the percent of fat increases with age. An inactive 50-year-old woman or man who weighs the same as at 25 has simply replaced about 10 pounds of muscle with 10 pounds of fat.
Before starting a strength building program, seek expert help. You can hurt yourself if weights are used incorrectly or exercises are performed improperly. For example, sit-ups, if done with straight legs instead of with knees bent, can hurt the back.
Warm up and cool down with 5 to 15 minutes of stretching exercises. Stretching improves flexibility and helps protect against injury and muscle strain. Try a variety of stretching exercises for different parts of the body, including arms, shoulders, back, chest, stomach, buttocks, thighs, and calves. Stretching exercises often stress movements you do naturally, such as reaching the hands toward the ceiling or making circles with the feet and ankles.
Aerobic exercises, such as running, walking, swimming, cycling, and dancing, cause the heart to beat faster and breath to come more rapidly. Low-impact aerobic activities spare the joints and muscles without the jarring and pounding of high-impact exercises such as jogging and jumping rope.
Walking is a convenient form of aerobic exercise. Begin with a short walk of a few blocks, then increase to a mile and decrease the time it takes to walk that mile. When you are comfortable with this first stage increase the activity level to 1 or 2 miles in 20 to 30 minutes every other day. For additional benefits, swing your arms as you walk and breath deeply.
The goal of aerobic exercise is to strengthen the heart by raising the heart rate to a certain level and keeping it there for 20 minutes. Find your target heart or pulse rate by subtracting your age from 220 and then multiplying the result by 70 percent. Thus for a 60-year-old person the target rate would be (220-60) x 70 percent or 112. It may take a person who has not exercised regularly several months to raise the rate to 70 percent.
Other sports such as rowing and cross country skiing are also excellent activities for conditioning the heart and lungs. Many people enjoy sports such as golf or bowling. These are good for social contacts and some conditioning; however, they usually do not provide the continuous activity needed for aerobic condi- tioning.
Check with reputable gyms or with university or hospital-affiliated exercise programs to find an instructor who has a college degree in physical education or is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine or the Association of Fitness Professionals.
Most communities have centers where older people can join exercise classes or swim. Find out about fitness programs at a local church or synagogue, civic center, community college, park, or recreation association.
Senior citizens' centers, YMCAs, and YWCAs offer a variety of programs. If you work, ask about programs there. Knowing that fitness improves performance on the job, many organizations provide opportunities for their employees to exercise regularly.