Trying to maintain an active lifestyle is a challenge for all us. In the "older adult" population, the challenge can be magnified because of physical changes that occur naturally with time. As we age, metabolic rate, bone mass and muscle mass decrease. These changes can lead to health conditions like osteoporosis or arthritis. One of the best ways to offset these effects is exercise.

Regular exercise can improve sleep patterns, flexibility, strength, and balance which could decrease the risk of falls, as well as minimize the symptoms of joint disease. It also jumpstarts your metabolism which could help with weight management. As a physical therapist, I often see the harmful effects of not staying active. Patients often ask: 1. what can I do? 2. where do I begin?

The first rule is safety – always talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program. Once you've had that conversation, there are some simple but effective exercises that can get you started.

All exercise sessions should have three elements; the warm-up, the workout and the cool-down. An effective warm-up can be as simple as a light walk that will prepare your body for the activity. During your workout, don't push yourself too hard. Listen to what your body is telling you and gradually build up to performing multiple exercises or repetitions. Finally, always end each session with a cool down like static stretches.

A walking program is a great way to improve your cardiovascular fitness. Whether you find a track or walk in the mall, I often tell patients to use the "talk test" to gauge your intensity. Meaning, if you can sing and talk as you are walking, you are working at a low intensity. If you can talk, but not sing when you are walking, then you are working at a moderate intensity. If you cannot talk when you are walking, then you are working at a high intensity. For any walking program, you want to maintain a moderate level of intensity. Remember to start slow and work your way up to 20-30 minutes.

Keep in mind that you don't need a lot of equipment or weights for strength training. Try these simple exercises which use the weight of your own body to create resistance. Remember to focus on a few exercises and a few repetitions. Gradually increase your routine and repetitions as your fitness level improves.

  • Sit to stand or standing squat: From a seated position, rise to a standing position. Perform 10 repetitions 1-2 times a day.
  • Hip abduction: From a standing position holding on to a table or chair, kick your leg out to the side. Perform 10 repetitions 1-2 times a day.
  • Hip marches: From a standing position holding on to a table or chair, alternate lifting your leg up. Perform 10 repetitions 1-2 times a day.
  • Heel raises: From a standing position holding on to a table or chair, raise your heels off the ground. Perform 10 repetitions 1-2 times a day.
  • Wall push-ups: Standing with your hands against a wall shoulder-width apart, perform a push-up lowering your body towards the wall. Perform 10 repetitions 1-2 times a day.
  • Bridge: From a supine position (back on the floor), raise your hips off the ground and hold for 1-2 seconds. Perform 10 repetitions 1-2 times a day.
  • Pelvic tilt: From a supine position, tighten your stomach muscles flattening out your back. This motion tilts your pelvis. Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat 10 times 1-2 times a day.
  • Shoulder retraction: From a standing or sitting position, squeeze your shoulder blades together for 5-10 seconds. Perform 10 repetitions 1-2 times a day.
  • Bicep curls: From a standing or sitting position holding a light dumbbell, flex your elbow. Perform 10 repetitions 1-2 times a day.
  • Hand grip: Squeeze a soft ball by making a fist. Perform 10 repetitions 1-2 times a day.

Remember, by starting an exercise program that includes combination of cardio and resistance, you are on your way to better health!

Dr. Smith is an Advanced Clinician I at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital's Center City Outpatient clinic JeffFit. He is a guest contributor on Sports Doc.

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