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Did you know today is National Senior Health and Fitness Day? Take a proactive approach toward aging with these health tips.

#1 Stay Active

The benefits of exercise only increase as we age. Surprisingly, after age fifty, our body sends us messages to slow down, when the very thing that will help us most is exercise. Our metabolism slows, our quadriceps strength declines (making it more difficult to stand from a sitting position), and many people start to experience joint pain. Exercise benefits all three of these issues by increasing our metabolism, strengthening our quadriceps, and decreasing joint pain and stiffness. In addition, exercise improves cardiovascular health and is linked to a lower risk in developing Alzheimer’s disease.

#2 Focus on Posture

As we age, we often get tightness in the muscles on the front of our body, experience changes in our muscle and connective tissue, and develop osteoporosis. As a result, many seniors develop a stooped posture. Maintaining an erect posture will make you look and feel ten years younger. By incorporating a few simple tips into your day, you can dramatically improve your posture.

Here are some posture-building exercises I recommend:

  • Place a 5 to 10 pound weight in a backpack and walk at least a mile a day.
  • Lie on your stomach, stretch your arms above your head and bend your knees.Do this every day. This will stretch tight muscles in the front of your body.
  • Strengthen your core muscles. Pilates is a great way to work on these key muscles.
  • A physical therapist can also teach you exercises to tone your abdominals and other core muscles.

#3 Build your Balance

As we age and our muscle strength, coordination and reaction times decrease, our balance also decreases. Your ankle muscles are key to maintaining balance and preventing falls, and it is necessary to exercise these muscles regularly. I recommend trying cycling and using toe clips ― that way, you are both pulling and pushing the pedals. In addition, practice walking on different types of terrain. Hiking the greenbelt using walking sticks is a good way to build confidence, strength and range of motion in your ankles.

#4 Dance to the Music

Do the jitterbug, the Texas two-step or polka the night away. Have you always wanted to learn the tango? Now’s the time! The best way to keep your brain active is by exercising and learning a new skill at the same time.

#5 Walk the Dog

Having trouble getting motivated? Get a dog. Studies show that dog owners get almost twice as much mild to moderate exercise as those without dogs. This additional walking time burns an extra 600 calories per week. Over a year’s time, that’s enough to burn off ten pounds or prevent you from gaining them.

#6 Protect your Joints

Not all seniors have to give up running. If you are wild about running, talk to your physical therapist to make sure running is the best exercise for you. There is no actual link between moderate running and development of osteoarthritis. If you are already experiencing arthritis pain, whatever you do, don’t slow down.  Inactivity is the worst thing for the pain and stiffness of arthritis. The aerobic benefit of exercise actually reduces pain. If you are no longer able to run, try cycling, speed walking or swimming to incorporate a healthy amount of aerobic activity in your life. Choose comfortable shoes and cushioned running surfaces for walking or running.

#7 Cut the Carbs

Recent studies show that carbohydrates and sugar are linked to Alzheimer’s dementia. A study out of the Mayo Clinic found that older people who load up their plates with carbohydrates have nearly four times the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment. Sugar also played a role in developing mild cognitive impairment. Instead, seniors should fill their plates with healthy fats and proteins.

#8 Gang Up

Gangs aren’t always bad. Gang up with your friends to keep you motivated with your new exercise and diet plan.

#9 Stand Up for Your Knees

Knee strength ― specifically quadriceps strength ― starts declining after age 50. Did you ever wonder why older people have so much difficulty getting out of a chair? It is because of their declining knee muscle strength. This weakness causes significant problems in the elderly and prevents them from doing common functional activities such as getting in and out of bed or on and off a couch.

But, there is a quick and easy exercise for this common problem—stand up!  Each day, incorporate the Nifty Fifty into your workout routine. Here’s how: While sitting at your kitchen table in a hard back chair, place your hands on the table. (You are placing your hands on the table to prevent you from using them to push you from the chair.) Without using your hands, stand up and sit down ten times. Rest. Repeat until you have completed five sets.

#10  Take the Stairs

Stair climbing is a great way to increase strength in your legs, lungs and muscles. Instead of using the elevator, find the stairs and use them whenever you can.

Incorporating these tips into your daily routine can significantly improve your quality of life in your later years. Whatever you do, don’t take the challenges of aging lying down. Take charge! Grab your dog, your backpack and your gang, and head on out to the Broken Spoke for an evening of dancing.   You’ll be glad you did.

–Diane Owens, PT, FACHE
St. David’s Rehabilitation

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