Let’s face it, many of us don’t exercise, even though we know exercise is vital for healthy aging. It helps you maintain your strength and agility, gives your mental health a boost, and can even help diminish chronic pain.
So what can you do to promote exercise to yourself? If you’ve followed the news, you know that regular exercise will help you stay physically and mentally healthy and improve your confidence. Here’s how to get started:
• Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Find out if any health conditions or medications you take affect what exercise you should choose. If you’ve been having regular visits, this is probably just a phone call.
• Find an activity you like and that motivates you to continue.
You may want to exercise in a group, like in a sport or class, or prefer a more individual exercise like swimming. If you’re still working, form a lunch-time walking club.
• Start slow.
If you are new to exercise, a few minutes a day puts you well on the way toward building a healthy habit. Slowly increase the time and intensity to avoid injury. But make a commitment. Make yourself a chart, and commit to doing your exercise routine regularly.
• Walking is a wonderful way to start exercising.
Exercise doesn’t have to mean strenuous activity or time at the gym. In fact, walking is one of the best ways to stay fit. Best of all, it doesn’t require any equipment or experience and you can do it anywhere. You may prefer a brisk walk in the mall, around the block, or even just up and down the stairs at your office building.
Don’t fall for the myth that aging automatically means you’re not going to feel good anymore. It is true that aging involves physical changes, but it doesn’t have to mean discomfort and disability. While not all illness or pain is avoidable, many of the physical challenges associated with aging can be overcome or drastically mitigated by eating right, exercising, and taking care of yourself.
It’s never too late to start. No matter how old you are or how unhealthy you’ve been in the past, caring for your body has enormous benefits that will help you stay active, sharpen your memory, boost your immune system, manage health problems, and increase your energy. In fact, many older adults report feeling better than ever because they are making more of an effort to be healthy than they did when they were younger.
Eating and exercising go hand-in-hand, and the beauty of it is that we can control what we put in our mouths, just as we can control our exercise options. We can decide what, how much and when to eat.
Tips for eating well as you age
As you age, your relationship to food changes along with your body. A decreased metabolism, changes in taste and smell, and slower digestion may affect your appetite, the foods you can eat, and how your body processes food. The key is to figure out how to adapt to your changing needs. Now, more than ever, healthy eating is important to maintaining your energy and health.
Load up on high-fiber fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Your whole digestive system is slower, so fiber is very important. They will help you feel more energetic and give you fuel to keep going. If you are determined to eat really well (no junk food) for two weeks, you’ll be amazed at your change in attitude toward fast food, sugary baked goods, and high-fat processed foods.
Put effort into making your food look and taste good. Your tastebuds aren’t as strong and your appetite may not be the same, but your nutritional needs are just as important as ever. If you don’t enjoy eating like you used to, put a little more effort into your meals, including the way you flavor, prepare, and present your food. Sometimes it seems like a lot of trouble to cook for just one or two people, so make several meals out of your good cooking and freeze for later use.
Watch out for dehydration. Because of physical changes, older adults are more prone to dehydration. So make sure you are drinking plenty of fluid, even if you don’t feel thirsty. If you’re not getting enough water, you’re not going to be as sharp and your energy will suffer. Regular, good old Maine water is sufficient. You don’t have to buy vitamin water, spring water, French water, colored water or flavored water. And soda doesn’t count at all, diet or regular!
Make meals a social event. It’s more enjoyable to eat with others than alone. Invite people over. You can share cooking and cleanup duties, and keep each other motivated to eat well. Then take a walk together!
Much of this information is from Healthy Aging Tips at www.helpguide.org. That is just one of several websites that can help you get started on a healthier, more active and vital you. Your local library also has shelves of information on fitness, good diets and senior health. You get to choose how to live your life, and there’s plenty of information available on how to be healthier. If that’s what you want, get started.
Deborah McLean is principal of Maine Senior Guide.com, a web resource site that showcases products, services and information for Maine seniors and their families. Reach her at dMcLean@maineseniorguide.com.