As we age, our bodies respond differently to movement and activity. Many people experience a decline in strength and flexibility as they get older. Joints can become stiffer and less flexible, and muscles can become rigid and may lose tone.
There is some good news. Exercise can alter, slow or even reverse some of the age-related impacts on our skeletal muscle mass. Movement can also help reduce pain, gain and maintain range of motion and preserve independence – all of which can avert the need for surgery, longer-term use of prescription medication, or the expense of modifying living space to accommodate for loss of function. So, what are some ways to keep active as you get older?
Choose movement. As with any age, we often make many unconscious decisions in the name of convenience. The next time you are out running an errand, think about how you could make the outing more active. Skip fighting for the closest parking spot and make your way to a perfectly adequate spot that forces you to walk a bit further. Instead of waiting for the elevator at an appointment, see if you can take the stairs. Are you an early riser? Take yourself (or your partner or your pet) for a morning walk. Have a favorite podcast? Why not listen while you are riding on a stationary bike? Try out a fitness tracker and set goals to integrate more movement into your day.
Try something new. In a city like Austin, there are a million fun ways to exercise – sometimes without even realizing it. If you are an animal lover, you could volunteer to walk an Austin Pets Alive! dog on Lady Bird Lake. Perhaps you have been wanting to try ballroom dancing or swing dancing. How about gardening? Yoga? Frisbee golf? Horseback riding? There are both indoor and outdoor fitness classes of all sorts offered across the city for all ages, and usually the first class is free. You can even make a fitness bucket list and try to cross off items in a certain period of time. If doing something on your own is a deterrent, then perhaps you should….
Find a fitness buddy. If you want to stay active, let your friends and family know. We are social creatures, so knowing we will get to see a friend or loved one while exercising can go a long way towards making sure you do incorporate more movement into your day. Instead of meeting a friend for lunch or coffee, suggest a walk instead. If you are around children, get involved in their games or volunteer to do the activity with them instead of sitting on the sidelines. Having a friend along for the ride can make everything more fun.
Consider weight-bearing activities. In addition to aerobic exercise which is great for our cardiovascular health – and which can and should be done at any age – weight-bearing activities are especially important as we age, since bone density tends to decrease as we get older. Activities which require you to use your own body weight, such as fast walking, jogging and running; climbing up stairs; jumping rope; team sports; tennis and even yard work, can strengthen your bones and potentially keep disorders such as osteoporosis at bay. Incorporating weights into your exercise regimen is another good way to keep your bones healthy. For more information, read our recent article for tips about safe weight training.
Turn on the tunes. If you wonder why the gym always has music on, look to science for your answer. According to an article in Scientific American, “Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even provide metabolic efficiency.” One study even showed that cyclists worked harder when listening to faster music. Humans and songbirds are the only animals which “automatically feel the beat” of a song, according to a professor of neurobiology who studies the effect of music on the nervous system. “The human heart wants to synchronize to music, the legs want to swing, metronomically, to a beat.” In a city like Austin, you can never run out of new music to listen to. Or, feel free to stick with your old favorites.
So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and get moving. Your body will thank you for it!