It's the time of year when millions of people resolve to get off the couch and into the gym. While advice on how to become active floats around the airwaves or appears in print, it's mostly aimed at a general audience. For older adults, these tips range from the helpful to the downright dangerous.
To help combat this misinformation, Colin Milner, CEO of The International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), the world's largest association for the senior fitness and wellness industry, has put together the following tips:
1. Get a checkup
Meet with your healthcare provider to see whether you'll need to consider any special modifications before starting an exercise program. If necessary, get a clearance to begin a program.
2. Know your options
Before starting any program, examine your options. Pick a program you know you will enjoy. Some individuals like to go to a gym and do a structured workout, while others enjoy a neighborhood walking club. Either will help improve your fitness, ability to function and quality of life-but only if you do it regularly.
3. Determine your participation style
Would you prefer taking a class or going solo? Are you a morning or night person? Does indoor fitness appeal to you, or would you prefer to play outside? Could you dedicate large blocks of time to physical activity or could you fit only shorter, more frequent intervals into your schedule? Be realistic about how you participate.
4. Start slowly
Many people are eager to get started and sometimes overdo it, which usually makes them sore and can make them want to stop. A good way to start slowly is to discover your baseline. Record all your activities during each waking hour or for two- or three-hour time blocks, tracking how much time you are sedentary (e.g. sitting at your desk) or active (e.g. walking to the bus stop). At day's end, count how many hours you have and have not been physically active. Then look at when you could fit some short (e.g. 10 minutes) bouts of brisk walking into your day.
5. Set specific short- and long-term goals
Make goals as specific as possible. For example, On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I will do a brisk, 10-minute walk in the morning before my shower, at lunch time and after dinner. Being specific means you are planning for activity in your day and making it a priority. Long-term goals are also important.
6. Make a list
List the benefits you expect from your physical activity program, then make sure these are realistic and reasonable. Many people expect enormous benefits, such as losing 30 pounds in a month. When these benefits don't materialize, they feel disappointed and relapse because they feel like they've failed. Try to make the benefits about things you can control, rather than an outcome (such as weight).
7. Invest in your health
Do you want to spend money on joining a program? Or would you prefer to develop a program you can do for little cost, using objects or props in your home or office? Both options are available.
8. Checkout the facility you want to join
Does the facility feel friendly? If the facility has a pool, what is its water temperature? About 84-86°F is comfortable for moderate to vigorous activity, while warmer temperatures are nice for range-of-motion and relaxation programs. Ask to try various programs, so you can decide which program feels the most comfortable and fun.
9. Checkout the staff
Are the people who work in the facility friendly and interested in you? Are they qualified to work with older adults? Are they interested in helping you learn how to modify exercises to fit your fitness level and conditions? Talk to mature adults who currently participate in their programs to build a complete picture.
10. Every step counts
Wear a step counter throughout the day to count how many steps you take. Less active people tend to take about 4,000 steps or fewer per day. Aim to do 250 to 1,000 additional steps of brisk walking, until you reach 8,000 to 10,000 steps in a day.
11. Know your challenges
List things that keep you from being active and come up with a solution for each. Recognize that challenges can be overcome.
12. Wear the right shoes
Foot comfort and support is important for all impact physical activities. If you have arthritis, diabetes or orthopedic problems, you can remain physically active with the help of appropriate padded sock products and shoes.
13. If it hurts, don't do it
Work around pain, not through it.
14. Make your car work for you
Park at the outer edges of the grocery store parking lot, rather than looking for the space closest to the door. Walk up the first flight of stairs in a high-rise, rather than waiting for the elevator.
15. Follow a well-rounded program
Include all five components of a successful program: warm-up, flexibility, cardio, resistance and cooldown.
16. Reward yourself
Once you've reached your goal, treat yourself to something that reminds you what a good job you've done and encourages you to continue. Make it something that feeds your spirit, but is not necessarily food or an expensive purchase.
ICAA is the world's largest membership association dedicated to changing the way we age by uniting professionals in the retirement, assisted living, recreation, fitness, rehabilitation and wellness fields. The council supports these professionals with education, information, resources and tools, so they can achieve optimal success with the 50 plus population.
As an active-aging educator and advocate, ICAA has advised numerous organizations and governmental bodies, including the US Administration on Aging, the National Institute on Aging (one of the US National Institutes of Health), the US Department of Health and Human Services, Canada's Special Senate Committee on Aging, and the British Columbia ministries of Health, and Healthy Living and Sport.
Top of Page
Back to Advice & Inspiration for Seniors & Boomers
Fitness and exercise Tips for Seniors & Boomers