Researchers have recently learned that regular physical activity can have a powerful effect on age-related declines in metabolism. One study out of Tufts University Center for Physical Fitness found that strength training by itself increased the metabolic rate of postmenopausal women by 15 percent. Not much, you say?
If the boost translates to only 100 calories a day, which is a realistic expectation, you could save yourself from putting on an extra 10 pounds in a year. Regular exercise offers a trifecta of good health: It burns calories, builds muscle, and improves your overall health. Experts on aging say that the body is better able to repair itself and perform efficiently if it is properly conditioned by exercise and good nutrition.
And the calorie-burning rewards of exercise are not limited to your workout time. Some research suggests that your revved up metabolic rate stays elevated for several hours after you stop exercising.
While weight management may be your number one priority now, think fitness not thinness. Just look at all the other health bonuses experts attribute to being physically active:
Regular physical activity reduces your risk of developing:
- Heart disease
- Some kinds of cancer
- High blood pressure
It also can reduce the symptoms of:
It boosts and builds:
- The immune system
- Your energy level
- Your muscle mass
- Blood flow to the brain, which helps keep you mentally sharp
So how should you get started? It doesn’t matter how you begin, just get moving! Any activity is better than vegetating in front of the television. Look for every opportunity you can to stand instead of sit, walk instead of drive, or run instead of walk. Turn your everyday activities into opportunities for physical activity, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Make movement a routine part of your everyday life.
Triad of Physical Activity
Recent research has found that when it comes to exercise, you need a combination of three types to reap the most health benefits — weight training for strength, aerobic exercise for strength and endurance, and calisthenics (stretching, bending, and twisting exercises) for flexibility.
Studies have found that extreme physical exertion is no more useful to gaining and maintaining fitness than is moderate exercise. What’s more, you place yourself at risk for injury or a heart attack if you’re not already in good physical shape. So start off slowly and increase your activity gradually. Get your doctor’s okay before beginning a new physical activity if you haven’t exercised in years or have a medical condition.
The Benefits of Walking
One of the easiest ways to get physically active is to walk at a pace that makes you breathe a little harder and work up a mild sweat for 30 minutes to 1 hour three days a week. This kind of walking will keep your heart, lungs, and vascular system in good working order and strengthen your bones and muscles.
If you just don’t have time for a 30-minute walk each day, experts say that walking about 10,000 steps a day (the equivalent of about five miles) while doing your normal activities should keep you fit.
Haven’t a clue how much walking that is? Try using a pedometer. It’s a small battery-operated gizmo about the size of a matchbox that you attach to your waist so it can monitor your every step. By keeping track of your movements all day, you can easily see how far you’ve gone and how far you have yet to go to reach your goal.
Swim Your Way to Fitness
If you have arthritis that makes some movements painful, swimming is an excellent way to get aerobically fit. It offers some of the same benefits as walking or other aerobic exercises without putting stress on joints that may be unable to repair themselves like healthy joints would. The one benefit swimming can’t provide, however, is strengthening bones because it is not a weight-bearing exercise.
Weight Training for Seniors
If you think lifting weights is just for 20-somethings in spandex, think again. It’s a little-appreciated fact that muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue does, even when at rest. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.
Since muscle mass declines with age — typically about five percent per decade beginning in your late twenties or early thirties — it’s to your advantage to try to increase your muscle mass through strength training. The older you get, the greater the potential benefit. So, as the saying goes, use it or lose it.
Research from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently confirmed that the gradual loss of muscle mass that occurs with age means a decreasing need for calories — and sometimes a creeping weight gain if you don’t lower your calorie intake. The more you can do to minimize the effect of muscle loss, whether it’s due to age, inactivity, or both, the easier weight loss will be.
But before you start trying to bench-press your own body weight, it’s important to distinguish between true weight lifting and strength training. Weight lifting is about bulking up so you can lift heavy weights swiftly. Strength training, on the other hand, is about firming by repeatedly lifting weights in a very slow, controlled way.
It’s a good idea when you first get started to have a trainer show you exactly how it should be done to avoid injury. Your training can be done with free weights, such as barbells, or with specially designed equipment that works specific parts of the body.
You should do a set number of repetitions with each exercise as you slowly progress to your goal. Muscle strengthening exercises should be done for at least 20 minutes, three times a week.
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