Whether you are a walker or a marathon runner, it is important to stay active as we age. The benefits of exercise reach far beyond the boundaries of your physical well-being. Here are only a few of the benefits that can be gained from regular exercise:
- Helps with weight maintenance (or loss)
- Increases energy levels
- Reduces stress
- Tones muscles
- Strengthens bones and muscles
- Lowers the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension and some cancers
- Decreases bad cholesterol (LDL) and increases good cholesterol (HDL)
- Improves insulin sensitivity
- Increases quality of sleep
- Improves digestion
- Decreases the risk of injury
- Improves mental cognition
- Relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Promotes psychological well-being
Exercise can be broken into 3 categories:
- Cardiovascular Fitness
- Resistance Training
Cardiovascular fitness is engaging in activity that elevates the heart rate and taxes the lungs. Types of cardiovascular fitness include: walking, running, rowing, swimming, and aerobic dancing. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, for health maintenance, Americans should engage in:
- Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
- Exercise recommendations can be met through 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (five days per week) or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (three days per week).
- One continuous session and multiple shorter sessions (of at least 10 minutes) are both acceptable to accumulate desired amount of daily exercise.
- Gradual progression of exercise time, frequency and intensity is recommended for best adherence and least injury risk.
- People unable to meet these minimums can still benefit from some activity.
Examples of cardiovascular activities and their corresponding intensity levels can be found here.
Musculoskeletal fitness can also be called strength or resistance training. According to ACSM, Americans should engage in resistance or strength training activities that are moderate or high intensity 2 or more days per week for all muscle groups.
- Very light or light intensity is best for older persons or previously sedentary adults starting exercise.
- 2 to 4 sets of each exercise will help adults improve strength and power with 30-90 seconds of rest between sets.
- For each exercise, 8-12 repetitions improve strength and power, 10-15 repetitions improve strength in middle-age and older persons starting exercise, and 15-20 repetitions improve muscular endurance.
- Adults should wait at least 48 hours between resistance training sessions.
Here is an example of a strength training workout that includes the major muscle groups.
Functional Fitness (officially known as Neuromuscular exercise) in essence is exercise that carries over from the gym into the functionality of real life. Functional fitness is recommended for two or three days per week.
- Exercises should involve motor skills (balance, agility, coordination and gait), proprioceptive exercise training and multifaceted activities (tai ji and yoga) to improve physical function and prevent falls in older adults.
- 20-30 minutes per day is appropriate for neuromotor exercise.
Here is a great article on Functional Fitness.
Flexibility is also an important part of a balanced fitness plan. Flexibility improves overall fitness, prevents injuries, and has been noted to keep the appearance of diseases like arthritis at bay.
ACSM recommends the following guidelines for flexibility:
- At least two or three days each week to improve range of motion.
- Stretches should be held for 10-30 seconds to the point of tightness or slight discomfort.
- Each stretch should be repeated two to four times, accumulating 60 seconds per stretch.
- Static, dynamic, ballistic and PNF stretches are all effective.
- Flexibility exercise is most effective when the muscle is warm. Try light aerobic activity or a hot bath to warm the muscles before stretching.
Here is an example of basic stretches that can be completed at home, the gym, or at your desk.