Physical Fitness Article:

It’s never too late to get physically fit

The weather's getting warmer, those pants are fitting a little tighter, and the blood pressure gauge keeps rising higher at every check-up. Maybe now is the time to stop talking about getting some exercise and really do it.

The benefits of regular physical activity for older adults are well documented. It lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of disease, eases stress and helps control weight gain. Less well known is the fact that exercise doesn't have to be strenuous to be good for you. According to a recent U.S. Surgeon General's Report, just 30 minutes of moderate activity for at least 10 minutes at a time five days a week has significant health benefits

The Healthy Aging Partnership, a coalition of 35 nonprofit and public organizations dedicated to the health and well being of Puget Sound seniors, points out that walking is one of the easiest and least expensive ways for people 55 and older to get physically fit.

It doesn't take a lot of preparation or expensive equipment to begin walking. By following a few simple first steps, you'll increase your chances of sticking with your walking routine and exercising without injury.

  • First, check with your doctor. Few physical conditions stand in the way of being able to take regular walks, but it's wise to get advice from your doctor before significantly increasing or changing your activity. Ask about exercise intensity and how to best avoid injury.
  • Buy good walking shoes. Unlike sneakers or tennis shoes, walking shoes are specially designed for the activity. They have heavy, flexible soles; a firm and slightly elevated heel; wide arch support; and sturdy uppers of leather or mesh fabric. For proper fit, allow a thumb's width between the tip of the shoe and the end of your longest toe.
  • Always carry identification and emergency contact information.
  • Take it slowly. People who have been inactive for a long time may only be able to walk a block or two at first. You may want to start by walking for short periods of time - 5 or 10 minutes - a couple times a day.
  • Go on group walks with other older adults. Having a dedicated time to walk with others can help keep you motivated. Local senior centers, parks and community centers often schedule regular walks.
  • Reward yourself. Treat yourself to a special outing, a new pair of walking shorts or a bouquet of flowers when you take a major step toward your goal. Consistency - walking regularly - should be valued over big increases in distance or time.
  • Drink plenty of water. When you feel thirsty, you may already be dehydrated, so drink water throughout your walks.
  • Pay attention to your pain. It's common to feel a little soreness, especially when you first start. But serious muscle pain, neck or low-back pain, cramps or nausea can be signs of serious injuries. See your doctor if these persist.

For more information on physical fitness activities in the Puget Sound area - or for answers to any of your questions about life as an older adult - call 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464) or visit the Healthy Aging Partnership web site at www.4elders.org.

HAP is generously supported by its partner agencies, Comprehensive Health Education Foundation and Public Health Seattle-King County.