If you think your glory days of sports and fitness are behind you, think again. Just ask Fauja Singh.
Singh, touted as the “world’s oldest marathoner”, ran his last race, a 10k, this past February. He retired at age 101. The most amazing part of Singh’s story, though, is that he didn’t start running until he was in his 80’s. He went on to run nine marathons, including his final one at age 100.
Benefits of fitness as you age
So what’s Singh’s secret? He simply had the motivation to start exercising. Singh turned to running as a way to get over the depression that followed the successive deaths of his wife and son.
It’s true that fitness can be used as an outlet to help with mental angst, but exercise does a body good in many other ways, too. Physical activity helps to:
· Ward off diseases. Getting regular exercise lowers the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
· Strengthen your bones and muscles. Doing muscle-strengthening exercises can offset the loss in bone density that comes with age.
· Improve your ability to stay independent. Many older adults have trouble doing daily tasks – like grocery shopping or climbing the stairs. Being active can help you maintain or regain your ability to stay independent. Seniors who are fit also have a lower risk of falls.
· Add years to your life. People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of dying early.
How to get started
Experts say older adults should be active for at least two hours and 30 minutes each week. Seniors should get four kinds of exercise: endurance, balance, strength and flexibility.
You can meet these recommendations by following this example schedule:
· Monday: 30 minute brisk walk
· Tuesday: An evening of heavy gardening
· Wednesday: One hour Tai Chi class
· Thursday: 30 minute brisk walk
· Friday: One hour water aerobics class
· Saturday: An afternoon of bike riding with your grandchildren
· Sunday: Rest
Still, many seniors have health problems and physical limitations that can make exercising a challenge. Following these steps can help you find a safe fitness program that’s right for you:
1. Get the OK from your doctor. Let your doctor know you plan to start exercising, and ask him or her if there are any special precautions you should take. If you have diabetes, for instance, your doctor may suggest exercises that don’t put a lot of pressure on your feet, like swimming.
2. Take it slow. You may have big goals – maybe you want to run a mile or take a water aerobics class – but it’s important to ease into fitness. You may not be able to do much in the beginning and that’s OK. In time, you’ll be able to increase the length and intensity of your workout sessions.
3. Find something you enjoy. The secret to sticking with an exercise program is finding an activity you enjoy doing. Try tennis, golf, biking or yoga.
4. Watch for red flags. Stop exercising and seek immediate medical help at once if you have chest pain, dizziness, break out into a cold sweat or feel like your heart starts racing or beating irregularly. These symptoms could be warning signs of a health problem.