It’s disheartening to find your body can’t do what it used to. But don’t give up on exercise. How well your body ages may be influenced by factors like genetics, but it has even more to do with lifestyle choices. Evon Schones, wellness director at Good Samaritan Society — Loveland Village in Colorado, shares healthy ways to adjust to the physical changes of aging — whether you’re dealing with illness, injury or normal wear and tear.
“Cardiovascular exercise is one of the best things you can do at any age,” Evon says. It helps protect you from heart disease, arthritis and depression, among other diseases.
How to tell if you’re working out hard enough to reap the benefits? Use the “sing or speak” test while you exercise: Get to the point where you could carry on a choppy conversation but wouldn’t be able to sing. (If you have a medical issue, make sure to check with your doctor first.)
Muscles atrophy with age. Strength training counteracts that. You can use dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands, machines or just your own body weight. Don’t stop exercising prior to joint surgery—the stronger your muscles and bones are leading up to an operation, the easier your recovery will be afterward. “Do squats and modified lunges. Work out in the pool,” Evon says. “I did these before I had my knee replacement, and that helped me recover quickly.”
To avoid overuse injuries, “don’t do the same activity day after day,” Evon says. Besides cardio and strength, work on your flexibility and balance. Go online to check out instructions and videos for flexibility and balance exercises for seniors. Yoga, Pilates and tai chi are all good options.
Instead of thinking "My life is so limited now," change your mind-set to "Look what I can do!" If you can no longer run, consider biking, swimming or hiking, which are easier on the joints. If getting on the floor to stretch is difficult, do chair yoga. “You might not be able to get back to where you once were, but you can get better than where you are now,” Evon says.
Exercise in a class, in a group activity such as bowling or with a buddy. “You’ll motivate and inspire each other,” Evon says. “Social interaction is an important part of wellness.”
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