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Fitness and Health:

20 Tips for Active Aging
How older adults can become more active

By International Council on Active Aging
Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2007

20 tips on how older adults can become more active in 2008

It's that time of year: Millions of older adults are resolving to start a new fitness or physical activity regime. Here are 20 tips to help adults in their 50s and beyond succeed in becoming more physically active in 2008.

1. Get a checkup

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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. Make a date

Find a buddy to exercise with you and keep you motivated. Whether it's a friend to walk with in your neighborhood or a personal trainer in a gym, that appointment makes it more likely you'll do the walk or workout.

6. 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. Is there an activity you would like to do that you feel physically incapable of at the moment, but may be able to do with a little effort? Set a long-term goal to help you do it.

7. 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). Build your list of benefits as you increase your physical activity--you'll be surprised at how long your list becomes.

8. 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.

9. Check out the facility you want to join

Does the facility feel friendly? Can you change clothes comfortably? If the facility has a pool, what is its water temperature? About 84-86F is comfortable for moderate to vigorous activity, while warmer temperatures are nice for range-of-motion and relaxation programs. Does the pool or workout room have an easy and safe exit/entry? Ask to try various programs, so you can decide which program feels the most comfortable and fun.

10. Check out the staff

Are the people who work in the facility friendly and interested in you? Are they qualified to work with older adults? Do the staff members each have a college degree in health? Do they offer pre-exercise fitness assessments, with periodic updates? Are they interested in helping you learn how to modify exercises to fit your fitness level and conditions? Do they encourage social interaction? Talk to mature adults who currently participate in their programs to build a complete picture.

11. Make choices

To move forward, we need to leave some things behind. What are you willing to give up to make room for exercise? Bad habits? Nonproductive activities? Nonbeneficial relationships?

12. 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.

13. Keep moving all the time

Stretch, walk, march in place, stand and sit as many times as possible when you're talking on the phone or during TV commercials.

14. Create a support network

Tell friends and family about your new goals and ask for their support and encouragement. Involving others often helps us to keep our commitments. Consider scheduling telephone reminders from your support network to help keep you on track.

15. Join a class

Select an exercise class appropriate for your health status and ability. Check with your local YMCA, JCC, hospital-based fitness program, city recreation program or health club to view the course offerings. Visit the local arthritis foundation for a list of all aquatic and land-based classes designed for those with arthritis conditions.

16. 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 padded sock products and appropriate shoes.

17. If it hurts, don't do it

Work around pain, not through it.

18. Follow a well-rounded program

Include all five components of a successful program: warm-up, flexibility, cardio, resistance and cooldown.

19. 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.

20. Don't quit

Like brushing your teeth, make exercise part of your daily life.

The International Council on Active Aging (ICAA)

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