Getting started with exercise can feel like a bit of a catch-22. On the one hand, you need to exercise to stay healthy and get your blood flowing, but on the other you don’t want to put yourself under too much strain, lest you suffer a cardiac episode on the treadmill.
Death is scary at the best of times, but the idea of breathing your last breath while wearing gym shorts, listening to repetitive techno music, and being surrounded by sweaty youngsters is terrifying.
The trick is to find the right balance and to get started in a way that doesn’t push you too far too fast. With that in mind, let’s look at some tips for older adults getting started with exercise.
What is Recommended?
YouTube videos hosted by peppy fitness experts will tell you that more is better, and may even recommend going for a run, lifting some weights, and only stopping when you’re exhausted. The problem with advice is that everyone can give it, but only a small minority actually know what they’re talking about.
Don’t pay too much attention to what younger and fitter people are saying and don’t buy into extreme fitness programs like HIIT. When you’re over the age of 60 and don’t have an extensive history of fitness, you need to take it easy.
Guidelines recommend performing at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise every week. The definition of “moderate” changes depending on your age and health status, but generally defines something that quickens your heart rate. This can be a brisk walk, a dance, or bicycle riding.
It’s best to perform these exercises over the course of a week as opposed to doing them all in one go. As you get fitter and stronger, you can consider adding other exercises to your regime, but don’t do too much too soon.
The risk of suffering a serious cardiac episode in the gym is actually relatively low and is not something you should worry about. Regardless, it’s a risk that can easily be negated.
That’s not all, as the risk of suffering an injury to muscles or joints is very real.
As a complete newbie, you should begin with some light walking or cycling. Stepping works as well and can be performed with a Stairmaster in the gym or on your staircase at home.
The trick is to test yourself and perform exercises that quicken your heart rate and tire your muscles. The fitter you are, the more effort you will need to exert and the more challenging your exercises can be, but in the beginning it’s better to stick with the basics.
Prepare, Track, Record
Always plan your exercises in advance and create a schedule that records your every workout. This makes it easier to keep track and monitor your progress, and it ensures that you won’t push yourself too much or get too lazy.
A Fitness Tracker can help with this and should be considered. Not only will it track your heart rate, making sure it doesn’t go too high, but it will record how many steps you take, for how long you exercise, how many miles you cover, and several other key metrics.
Warm-Up and Warm-Down
You can reduce the risk of injury by warming up before every workout. If you’re going for a brisk walk, this is not necessary, but if you’re performing anything strenuous, it is. Furthermore, it never hurts to complete a few stretches every now and then to ensure you remain warm, agile, and prepared.
When lifting weights, it’s better to skip the stretches and simply lift lighter weights. There is no concrete evidence to suggest that stretching reduces the risk of injury in weightlifting, and anecdotal evidence says the same. It’s much better, therefore, to simply warm your muscles by lifting much lighter weights than you would lift during a “working” set.
Once your workout is over, cool down by performing light stretches. If you’ve been on a long run or have performed some other strenuous exercise, finish by slowing to a brisk walk. When stretching and performing aerobic exercises, it’s important not to put too much strain on your muscles. The idea that there is “no pain without gain” is complete nonsense.
It’s normal to feel a little strain when lifting heavy weights and it’s also normal to hurt the next day, but if you’re feeling a lot of pain when performing a movement it means you’re doing it wrong.
Drink Plenty of Water
Stay hydrated throughout your workout, as this will allow your body to regulate temperature and ensure a steady pulse. Proper hydration makes a massive difference, and it’s incredibly easy to drink a little water throughout your day.
If you’re watching your waistline, skip the sports drinks. They will hydrate you and taste great, which makes it easier to drink more, but they’re loaded with sugar. Unless you’re an athlete burning hundreds of calories and pushing for a personal best, you don’t need energy drinks or sports drinks.
Be Careful with Supplements
The sports supplement industry is worth billions of dollars, but many supplements are ineffective, expensive, and untested. Someone who knows what they’re doing and is seeking to build muscle and/or burn fat can use carefully selected supplements to gain an extra 5% and push them a little closer to their goal.
As a senior just getting started, though, you don’t need them. You probably won’t benefit from them and, if you’re not careful, they may cause harm. Many pre-workout drinks and fat burners contain questionable ingredients alongside massive doses of caffeine. It can put your heart under unnecessary stress and may interact with medications, all for the sake of a little rush that makes you feel like you want to vomit, pass out, and lift a 4×4 all at the same time.
Speak with a Health Professional
Last but not least, if you have a pre existing medical condition or you’re taking medications that impact your blood pressure, heart rate, joints, or make you drowsy, speak with your physician before starting a new exercise regime.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry.