You know you have to do it and you promise to start tomorrow. But the road from the couch to the gym, pool or yoga studio can prove insurmountable at dawn. You are not alone in exercise. And you are not alone.
Only about one in five adults exercise regularly, and that number drops to 12% for people over the age of 65. Working adults say the main obstacle is lack of time. But having more free time, combined with a lack of structure in retirement, can also make exercise challenging.
People’s schedules until retirement have many built-in activities, said Dr. Katie Hill, chief medical officer of Nudj Health, a Pasadena-based company that works with physicians to improve the health of older patients.
You walk to and from the car, you walk around the office, you walk off your desk, you go to meetings, you go to lunch, Hill said. Our external programs help structure us. A lot of that goes away in retirement. Physical activity levels are no longer integrated into your routine and many sessions occur.
Add to that the pull of powerful forces, including a fear of falling or injury, a belief that exercise is for the young and it’s too late to start, a fascination with more sedentary activities, and a sense of having earn the right to relax and do as you please. ; all of these can put movement low on the priority list.
Those who exercise throughout their lives are likely to continue in later life, said Margie E. Lachman, a Brandeis University psychologist and lead author of When Adults Dont Exercise: Behavioral Strategies to Increase Physical Activity in Sedentary Middle-Aged and Older Adults .
Conversely, to start exercising later in life requires deciding how, what and when to do it. It takes commitment to start a new pattern of physical activity after a long-term sedentary lifestyle.
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The risks of too much free time
With the need for exercise making headlines and public health experts touting the importance of movement, knowledge of the benefits of exercise is hard to lose. For example, staying active can reduce your risks for cardiovascular disease, some cancers, depression, anxiety, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
Moving regularly can also help maintain a healthy weight, increase range of motion and strength, and reduce rather than exacerbate the risk of falls.
Leading a sedentary lifestyle does the opposite, increasing the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression and making it more and more challenging to carry out the activities of daily living.
However, despite the evidence, many seniors attribute their accumulated health problems to aging, believing they are too old to start an exercise program. Their pain, discomfort, and stiffness will only increase if they do.
The myth that our bodies degrade as we age causes some seniors to stop exercising, even though many of the problems originally associated with aging are the direct cause of physical inactivity, said Amanda Sterczyk, an Ottawa physical therapist. and advocate for fitness for seniors.
Physical inactivity, he continued, is prematurely aging their bodies. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It can also make it harder to do the things you enjoy, like playing with the grandkids or traveling without restrictions.
But transitioning from a largely sedentary lifestyle to a more active lifestyle doesn’t mean gritting your teeth and scurrying from chair to treadmill. Instead, experts advise going slow and emphasizing pleasure.
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The pleasure principle
While public health experts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week and two days of strength training, the experts interviewed for this article advise those new to the movement to ignore the lines. guide to the beginning.
If you’re going to start a habit, you have to start small, said Lana Heimann, a physical therapist and movement specialist in Princeton, New Jersey. She finds something more fun than tortuous. People will start with the bike or treadmill; if they don’t like it, they will quit. If you don’t like it or are unhappy, you won’t continue.
Hill says spend time planning a weekly schedule that focuses on adding movement to your regular activities and getting out of the house, which increases the amount of time you’re not sitting and the number of daily steps.
Besides parking farther from the grocery store or walking to the mailbox, think of activities that make you smile, she said, like going to a local park to watch the dogs or move to music.
Consider and look for ways to move, she continued. Join your social network to create movement opportunities that involve seeing people in person. Be thoughtful about it.
Other strategies for making movement and exercise more enjoyable include temptation grouping — combining exercise with something enjoyable, such as walking while listening to music or a podcast, riding a stationary bike while watching a favorite TV show, or walking with a friend.
Or you can reward yourself after your workout with something you enjoy, like reading a book or having an iced coffee.
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Tips to get started
Experts all recommend speaking to a health professional if you have any health problems or concerns, as your doctor may recommend a specific approach. However, if you’re in good health, here are some tips to get you started:
- Start gradually. Pay attention to your body to avoid muscle strain. Then, as you keep moving, you can increase the duration and intensity.
- Consider walking first. It’s accessible, free, requires no unique clothing or equipment, and you can change the pace, such as a brisk walking block followed by a slower pace. Start with about 10 minutes a day the first week and add five minutes weekly, aiming for a minimum of 30. (See: Walking Can Help You Lose Weight and Get Fit If You Do It Right.)
- Incorporate a water activity. Even if you are not a swimmer, you can enter a pool in the shallow end. The water relieves the pressure on your joints and the resistance against the water is harder on your muscles and strengthens them.
- Try stretching and mobility movements. A sedentary lifestyle creates a muscle imbalance. Some tighten and some stretch and loosen, further compounding the risk of injury. Check online for simple stretching options and go slowly and carefully to help your muscles rebalance.
- Don’t be alarmed if you experience muscle pain. This was to be expected if you have been sedentary for a long time. But if you experience sharp pains, especially in your joints, stop doing the activity and see your doctor.
- Consider hiring a personal trainer or movement specialist who works with older bodies. If cost is an issue, look for online tutorials.
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It takes a few weeks to develop a habit before it becomes an automatic part of one’s daily life, Lachman said. When something is fun, you’re more likely to keep doing it for the inherent pleasure and to feel good after doing it. When you start to miss it, you know it’s an integral part of your routine.
Patricia Garrisoni is a freelance writer specializing in issues of health, wellness, age and sexism. She lives with her husband in Lewes, Delaware.
This article is reprinted with permission fromNextAvenue.org2023 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.
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