If we don’t make time in our life for fitness and health now, we are going to have to make time in our life for ill health later. Even for those who suffer from chronic conditions or are in rehab or long-term care, maximizing physical fitness to whatever degree or capacity can have a profound impact on quality of life and mental and emotional health.
It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise we do. What matters is that we do it regularly. Ideally, our goal should be 30 minutes of physical activity a day. As we age, our needs and abilities change. During our lifetime, we may encounter injury or illness. For these reasons, our activity program needs to change too. And remember, there are lots of ways to stay active that don’t include formal exercise.
In terms of health and fitness, the years leading up to our forties are really about laying the foundation for physical, emotional and mental health. Along with good eating habits, we need to be developing strength, flexibility, and cardio- vascular health, as well as increasing muscle mass and finding ways to positively impact our mental health. Sexual health is also paramount and pre and post partum health will often become important in these years.
Though many of us don’t realize this in our younger years, our bodies are at their most resilient when we are young. It’s during these times in our lives that our bodies can handle a lot of abuse. This is also the time time to develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime. Try lots of activities and choose something that makes you break a sweat and feel good about yourself. And learn to cook!
No matter how healthy we have been in our youth, we start to see problems by the time we are in our fourties: back and joint pain; weight gain; high blood pressure and cardiac events; diabetes and disease. This is also a time when we have maximum demands on our time which means less time for exercise and self-care. The effects of a sedentary lifestyle start to appear. The issues that appear as nagging problems now will grow to become crises if we don’t attend to them.
We need to focus on staying or getting active. It’s important to maintain muscle and bone mass, pelvic floor health and postural endurance. We need to do body-weight training like Pilates and yoga or weight training to build joint stability particularly in the lower back, shoulders and knees. We also need to increase mobility and flexibility. With time at a minimum and pressures at a maximum, we need to learn to manage stress – mindfulness, meditation, and breathing exercises are all great strategies. Our kids are watching us so it’s important to model healthy, active behaviors.
Ages 65 -75
If you have made health a priority in your forties, fifties and early sixties, you are going to be well set up for your “golden years” when we will likely start to see increased physical breakdown such as spinal issues, arthritis, osteoporosis and joint degeneration. Maintaining a healthy weight and continuing to do strength and flexibility training will help mitigate some of the decline. During these years, we may have to modify our exercise program or take a gentler approach. Continue to work on strength, endurance, flexibility and cardio health. And pay attention to your feet! They need exercise too.
The goal of exercise in our older years is functional fitness to maintain activities of daily living. Balance training and fall prevention are vital. Stimulating the brain with movement helps maintain cognitive function. The social interplay and tactile interaction in exercise improves mental health and encourages physical independence. There are many excellent programs designed for older adults such as Chair Yoga, specialized swim programs and Balance and Agility Pilates classes where exercises are modified for mobility issues.
How to help
Encourage your loved ones to stay as active as possible. Walk with them wherever you can whenever you can. Invite them to do chores – everyday activities like house cleaning, cooking and gardening will help increase their fitness level. Encourage them to be as independent as possible for as long as possible.
Caring for an aging, infirm or injured loved one is challenging. But caregivers also need to somehow find time to prioritize their own health needs. The pressure to exercise and keep fit can seem like just one more thing you don’t have time to do. It’s important to include exercise and movement in all aspects of our life instead of thinking about it as something separate we do in a class or at the gym. And its something you can do together!