If you're like many people, it was easy to get to the gym in your 20s when you were young and full of energy. But when you reached your 40s and the days grew busy with the obligations of career, kids and maintaining a home, it got easier to bump step class to the bottom of your to-do list. However, midlife may be the worst time to stop exercising, says Jennifer Hubert, DO, an internal medicine physician at St. Joseph Health Medical Group in Sonoma County.
"We all know exercise has health benefits, but these benefits are crucial at midlife, as it sets the stage for older adults to live long, healthy and active lives as they age," Dr. Hubert says. "Physical fitness may help stave off chronic diseases, such as stroke, heart disease and certain cancers, down the road, and may cut the risk of dementia."
If you're ready to carve some time out of your busy schedule for exercise, but not sure how to start, Dr. Hubert offers the following suggestions:
- Talk to your doctor. "This should be the first thing you do," Dr. Hubert says. "As you age, you may develop health issues that would rule out certain types of workouts. Your physician may set some guidelines for cardio workouts if you have a heart condition, for instance, or recommend you focus on low-impact activities such as water aerobics if you have arthritis."
- Slow and steady wins the race. "If you haven't exercised for a long time and live a sedentary lifestyle, you shouldn't push yourself too quickly--a brisk 30-minute walk will be better than trying to run a half marathon," Dr. Hubert says. "Your body needs to get used to exercising again, and you want to avoid potential injury. As you get stronger, you can ramp up your workouts."
- Go for the trifecta. "An exercise program should have three components: aerobic or cardio activity for heart function; strength training to prevent loss of muscle mass that's typical as you age, and flexibility workouts to maintain balance and guard against falls that can break a bone," Dr. Hubert says. (For examples, see the box.)
- Get a regular schedule. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults up to age 65 should complete at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity plus a minimum of two days of strength training each week. "Moderate activity means you're breaking a sweat while exercising but can still talk comfortably; workouts can include walking, cycling on flat roads or ballroom dancing," Dr. Hubert says. "Vigorous activity is more intense--you can't talk during it. Examples include running, swimming and singles tennis. As you keep working out, you can move from moderate to vigorous activity, and increase the duration of your workouts."
- Have someone qualified show you the ropes. "A personal trainer can help show you proper form to prevent injury and answer any questions you may have; most gyms offer these types of programs," Dr. Hubert says. "If you're interested in a sport such as swimming or track, there are masters programs geared toward adults, where coaches offer training and guidance. In both cases, working out under someone's supervision can keep you accountable and more likely to stick to your workout plan."
- Always warm up and cool down. Your body may not be as young as it used to be, so you want to take extra care of it. A five- to 10-minute cardio session pre-workout, with some stretching at the end, keeps your body supple and strong.
- Find something you love. Life is too short to slog away at a particular workout if you don't like it. "If you loved ballet dancing as a child, take a class now," Dr. Hubert says. "Pursuing a passion makes the workout more enjoyable--and the more you enjoy working out, the more likely you are to stick with it."
Cardio: Walking, jogging, biking, dancing, tennis, swimming
Strength training: Free weights, weight machines, resistance bands and whole-body exercises such as push-ups and squats. Aim for one to three sets with eight to 10 reps per set.
Flexibility: Yoga, tai chi, pilates
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.