Physical Fitness Article:

Take it slow, make it fun if you want fitness resolution to stick

New Year's resolutions are a dime a dozen. Many folks, including lots of well-intentioned older adults, start exercising with great gusto only to get bored, strain a muscle and quit as their resolve dissolves.

The key to beginning a fitness regimen that actually pays off is to choose enjoyable activities you can do regularly, and then gradually step it up and mix it up, suggests the Healthy Aging Partnership, a coalition of some 40 Puget Sound-area organizations dedicated to the health and well-being of older adults.

If you've been sedentary, aim for at least 30 minutes of regular activity five days a week. Eventually you'll be rewarded by a boost in energy, lower blood pressure, stronger bones and muscles, better balance and an improved mental outlook.

Regular exercise also has been shown to ease the effects of such chronic conditions as arthritis and diabetes.

Most healthy adults can begin a plan of moderate exercise - brisk walking or cycling on a stationary bicycle - but men over 40 and women over 50 should check with their doctors before launching into rigorous exercise like jogging, skiing or singles tennis.

Adults with chronic conditions or certain physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis and asthma, also are advised to consult their doctors beforehand.

Age and frail health aren't excuses to avoid activity. On the contrary, illness and disability are more often the result of inactivity, according to HAP. Particularly as we age, physical fitness is critical to keeping our health and independence.

The Healthy Aging Partnership offers the following tips for starting and sticking with an exercise plan:

  • Choose activities you enjoy and can do daily. Your workout routine should be something you can maintain and adapt as your fitness and circumstances change. In our rainy winters, for example, you may want to take your workout to the gym, community center or another indoor facility.
  • Plan to cover the four areas of fitness: endurance (activities that increase heart rate and breathing); strength (such as light weight lifting or bowling); flexibility (stretching) and balance. Consider using a trainer, at least for one visit, to outline a total fitness program appropriate for you and against which you can establish a baseline.
  • Set specific goals and track your progress. Step up the intensity of your exercise regimen as you get more fit, but don't overdo it. Experts recommend a gradual increase of no more than a 10 percent. If you're too breathless to talk, you're probably overdoing it.
  • Play it safe. Always wear appropriate shoes, clothing and gear to prevent injuries. Take the time to warm up and cool down and drink plenty of water.
  • Vary what you do to keep boredom at bay. Do different activities on different days, walking on Wednesdays, swimming on Tuesdays, gardening on Thursdays, for example. Mixing it up also helps you work different muscles and avoid injuries.
  • Everyday chores - vacuuming, mopping and shopping - count. Fit in more fitness by taking the stairs instead of the escalator, walking instead of driving, and doing exercises while watching television.
  • Have fun! Get together with a friend and take dance or golf lessons.
  • Remember that some activity, even if it's just walking the dog, is better than none. Soon you'll be able to do more.

For more fitness options and answers to other questions related to life as an older adult, call HAP's free and confidential help line at 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464) or e-mail hap@seniorservices.org. To learn more about HAP and its partner agencies, visit the Web site at www.4elders.org.