As a former physical therapy assistant, Katrina Wolf knows just how important it is for people to keep moving as they get older.
Adults start losing muscle mass in their 30s, she said. Their bones become more brittle and susceptible to fracture. Their heart and blood vessels become more rigid, decreasing the amount of blood flow to their brain.
“That’s all very depressing,” she said during a presentation at the C. Burr Artz Public Library in Frederick recently. “What can we do to improve all of those things that I just listed? There is one thing that we can do, and it’s exercise.”
Fitness helps people build muscle and improve their balance and vascular health, Wolf said. It’s especially important for people older than 55 to exercise, she added, because loss of strength is one of the most common reasons for why people need to get assistance in their homes.
Want to be more active but aren’t sure where to start?
Here are some tips from Wolf, founder of Age Well Senior Fitness, a company that offers in-home and virtual personal-training services to clients 55 and up, as well as those with health problems.
Older adults should speak with their doctors before starting any exercise program, she said.
TIP #1 Start where you areThe American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people older than 65 get 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. That’s about 30 minutes of exercise five days per week, including two days of resistance training.
But fitness rookies shouldn’t let that guidance intimidate them. Start at a level of fitness where they’re comfortable. If that’s 10 minutes of exercise per day, instead of 30, that’s better than zero.
“Something is better than nothing,” Wolf said.
Don’t forget about strength training
Wolf often sees older adults walking with their friends when she drives through retirement communities. While walking is wonderful exercise, she said, it’s not enough.
Strength training helps older adults remain independent in their homes. Aim to complete eight to 12 repetitions of each type of exercise in two to three sets. The weights should be heavy enough that the last several repetitions are difficult to complete.
It’s important that this exercise is progressive, meaning it gets more difficult over time. Older adults can increase the weight they use or increase the number of repetitions, exercises in rotation, or speed.
Balance is critical
Balance training is a “must,” especially for adults over 65. Falls are one of the leading causes of hospitalizations among this population. Older adults who fall and break a bone are likely to experience a significant decline in function.
A good balance exercise should challenge an older adult. If you aren’t struggling to keep your balance, your body isn’t learning anything. But at the same time, it’s also important to stay safe, so you don’t fall while exercising.
Check your posture
Common daily activities such as driving and reading cause people to lean forward, worsening their posture. Poor posture can contribute to joint pain, problems with digestion and breathing, and headaches.
Working to improve your posture can help improve other aspects of your health, as well.
Remember to stretch
People lose flexibility as they age. It’s common for older adults, especially those who sit a lot, to experience tightening in their chest and hip flexors.
It’s important not to stretch a muscle when it’s cold. When working with clients, Wolf often has them work on flexibility at the end of an exercise routine.
Older adults should be able to hold a stretch for at least 20 seconds. She usually has her clients do three sets of stretches that last for 20 seconds each. Breathing is also important when working on flexibility.
Explore your exercise options
Virtual exercise classes for older adults are available on YouTube and at local senior centers. Physical therapists also often have online classes for clients.
Some people may enjoy group activities, such as pickleball. In-person fitness options help reduce feelings of isolation and meet the need for social interaction, as well as exercise.
Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @24_angiers
Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @24_angier