The lifelong benefits of exercise

It’s never too late to start an exercise routine. 

 If you’ve been an active person your entire life, then you already understand the benefits of regular exercise. Even if you can’t explain in technical terms why exercise makes you feel better, you just know it does. 

(If you want to get slightly technical, exercise causes our bodies to release endorphins, which are chemicals, or hormones, that relieve pain, reduce stress, and improve our sense of well-being. Endorphins are released during other pleasurable activities such as exercise and massages.) 

The benefits of exercise are not limited to physical well-being. Most any type of exercise or physical activity—walking, jogging, pickleball, yoga, biking, dancing, Tai Chi, gardening—provides an emotional boost, as well, by reducing feelings of depression and stress, increasing your energy level, improving stamina, and helping you sleep better. Beyond being great for your mental and physical health, one of the greatest benefits of exercise is that it can help keep you remain independent as you age. 

Now that we’ve touched on why physical activity is good for you, let’s talk about how you can make exercise an integral part of your life. In this article, we’ll talk about how much exercise is optimal for senior health and wellness, and how to get started—yes, even if you’ve been a couch potato your whole life. And we’ll suggest some specific exercises that you can try—many of which are offered right here at Plymouth Place. 

What’s the right amount of exercise you need? 

According to the federal government’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, seniors should aim for at least two and a half hours per week of moderate aerobic exercise. This can include walking (at a brisk pace), swimming, and even fast dancing. You could do it all in one day, but ideally it should be spread out over at least three days a week. Muscle-strengthening activities— like lifting weights or doing pushups and sit-ups—are also recommended at least two days a week. Combining aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises is also recommended—for example, lifting weights (even hand weights) and/or doing pullups after a brisk walk, bike ride or jog. Combine that with a balancing exercise such yoga and you’ve got a well-rounded workout. 

There are four types of exercise: endurance, balance, flexibility, and strength. If you can manage to incorporate each of these into your routine, then you’ll reap maximum benefits. 

How to get started. 

First, if you are in the aforementioned “couch potato” group and haven’t been active in a long time, a trip to your primary care doctor is highly recommended. A wellness exam should be the first order of business, and then you should ask your doctor about starting an exercise routine. Questions such as: 

  • What exercises are best for me? The answers to this question will likely depend on your medical history and current level of activity. Besides making exercise suggestions, your doctor can also help you make a plan to gradually increase the intensity or duration of your physical activity. 
  • What exercises should I avoid? If you’ve had any recent surgeries or have chronic health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease, your physician will know what types of exercise might make these conditions worse. This would be the time to bring up any unexplained symptoms you’ve been experiencing, such as chest pain or pressure, joint pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath. Until these symptoms are diagnosed and treated, your doctor might tell you to hold off on starting an exercise routine. 

Building slowly from your current fitness level is essential to enjoying a safe and successful exercise routine. If you start out too fast, you risk injuring yourself and then you’re back to where you started—on the sidelines, where you might start contemplating quitting altogether. A steady rate of progress is the best approach. Want to start running again? Don’t try to do three miles your first time out. That’s a pulled muscle, or worse, waiting to happen. Try walking first, then jogging a block, then a few blocks. Building up mileage over time will make you more likely to stick with it. 

Other things to remember to help reduce your risk of injury: 

  • Warm up before exercising and cool down afterward. This includes stretching before and after exercise, which helps prevent pulled muscles. 
  • If you’re exercising outdoors, pay attention to your surroundings. You’d be surprised how many accidents happen on a crowded running path. If you’re biking, wear a helmet and obey the rules of the road. 
  • Drink water before, during, and after your workout session, even if you don’t feel thirsty. 
  • Wear the appropriate fitness clothes and shoes for your activity. Want to try pickleball? Don’t wear your old running shoes and risk twisting an ankle. Invest in regulation court shoes. 

Set fitness goals. 

Having a firm fitness goal can motivate you to stay with it. Set goals that are specific, realistic, and important to you, and write them down. It’s best if you divide them into short-term and long-term goals. 

Short-term goals will help physical activity become a regular part of your day. These are simple, general goals that should be easy to follow, such as: 

  • Today, I will find out about exercise classes near me. 
  • Tomorrow, I will buy the shoes and appropriate attire for the exercises I’m interested in. 
  • By the end of this week, I will talk to a friend about exercising with me. 
  • By the end of next week, I will begin exercising regularly. 

Long-term goals help you focus on where you want to be in six months, a year, or two years from now. Like your short-term goals, these goals need to be realistic, personal, and important to you. Examples of long-term goals include: 

  • In six months, I will increase my activity enough to bring my blood pressure under control. 
  • By next summer, I will be able to throw the baseball with my grandson. 
  • By this time next year, I will be able to swim ten laps three times a week. 

As you make progress, remember to review your goals regularly and revise them as your priorities change. 

Making exercise enjoyable—and uncomplicated. 

If exercise is something you dread, then you’re not likely going to keep at it. So, find ways to make it simple and enjoyable. Tired of walking on a treadmill? Take up dancing. Salsa, tango, square dancing—all of these are fun forms of exercise that build strength and agility, and also improve your emotional health. 

Dancing is a social activity, too, which is important in maintaining a physical routine. Whether it’s dancing, yoga, tennis, or a team sport such as softball, having others to exercise with can keep you motivated. 

You are also more likely to exercise if it’s a convenient part of your day. If you’re still working, take a walk with coworkers after lunch to break up the monotony of the day. You’d be surprised what a 30-minute walk can do for your mood and your productivity. Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs. Walking the dog, mowing the lawn, cleaning the house—you can count them all as exercise. 

Plymouth Place health and wellness activities. 

Plymouth Place is dedicated to helping residents feel good every day, in every way. Ours is a holistic approach that includes all aspects of human wellness: physical, emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual, and occupational. 

For physical pursuits, we have a wide variety of wellness opportunities that includes exercise programs with personal trainers, Tai Chi, yoga, and both walking and cycling groups. 

Our Tai Chi classes are among our most popular. Tai Chi is a great way to combine exercise with social interaction, and it offers amazing benefits. An internal Chinese martial art that focuses on mental and spiritual aspects integrated into movement, Tai Chi is a low-impact, relaxing form of exercise that requires only about twenty minutes a day and rewards your efforts in many ways, including: 

  • Relieving the physical effects of stress. 
  • Promoting deep breathing. 
  • Reducing bone loss in menopausal women. 
  • Improving strength in the lower body and legs. 
  • Relieving arthritis pain. 
  • Reducing blood pressure. 
  • Enhancing mental capacity and concentration, 
  • Improving balance and stability. 
  • Improving conditions of Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. 

Rock Steady Boxing. 

One of the most innovative therapies for people with Parkinson’s disease is available right here at Plymouth Place. Rock Steady Boxing is based on training used by boxers. It focuses on stretching, balance and strength exercises, and non-contact boxing, all of which help patients enhance their quality of life by improving their power, strength, flexibility, and speed. Rock Steady Boxing is available to our residents and the public. 

If you’re ready to experience truly active adult senior living, feel better physically and emotionally, and help maintain your independence well into old age, then it’s time to begin developing a fitness and exercise program that you will look forward to every day.