5 Important Ways to Help You Stay Active as You Age

Staying active as you age can help relieve chronic pain, reduce stress, and maintain your quality of life.

Starting in your 30s, you might start losing muscle mass and strength. Women also tend to age more quickly than men because of hormonal shifts that can lead to changes in bone health, body shape, and physical function.

“If you’re a woman and you lose estrogen, you tend to lose a greater amount of muscle, bone, and cartilage,” Bert Mandelbaum, MD, a sports medicine specialist and co-chair of medical affairs at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles. “But you have the potential of modifying them on so many levels, including with exercise and diet.”

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Here are five things to keep in mind and help you stay physically active as you age, according to health experts. 

Exercise Regularly 

Health guidelines recommend that adults get 150–300 minutes of moderate activities or 75–150 minutes of vigorous activities per week. You can break your exercise into smaller chunks of time, such as exercising 30 minutes a day, five days a week.1

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity can include brisk walking, dancing, and gardening. Vigorous aerobic activity is more intense, like running, swimming laps, jumping rope, or hiking uphill with a heavy backpack.2

The type of exercise and duration varies based on individual physical capabilities, said Megan E. Rau, MD, MPH, a geriatric medicine specialist at NYU Langone Health.  

“For somebody, exercising regularly may mean simply doing that walk in the park, but for somebody else who maybe has more physical conditioning, it may be running five miles,” Rau said.

She added that no matter how old you are, it’s never too late to start moving. You can even start by parking further away when going to work or the grocery store, or climbing a flight of stairs instead of using the elevator. She said it’s all about finding an activity that you find interesting and something you will enjoy.

“Starting an exercise routine or incorporating more physical activity into your daily life is going to be important in maintaining your function as you age,” Rau said.

It’s all about finding the one exercise you love, whether that’s Zumba or Pilates, she added.

Muscle Strengthening Exercises

For older adults, it’s recommended to do muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week in addition to any moderate-to-intense activities. Resistance training can help maintain muscle mass, Rau said.

“That’s important as people age because you need some of that strength to do just your general activities, whether it’s going grocery shopping or lifting a gallon of milk,” she said.

Lifting weights, using resistance bands, climbing stairs, push-ups, sit-ups, and squats are just some examples of strength training activities.3

Balance High Impact and Low Impact Activities 

While it’s important to incorporate both high- and low-intensity workouts into your routine, you should balance the two safely, according to Matthew Best, MD, director of research in the sports medicine division at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

For example, higher-intensity activities like running or jumping rope can be beneficial for some people, but they can also put others at risk of injury or pain.

“People with joint problems or pain may notice less exacerbation of their symptoms with lower impact activity,” he said. “I often recommend lower impact activities such as biking, elliptical, or water aerobics for patients with arthritis or cartilage degeneration as this may help to reduce pain from higher impact activities.”

Rau added that to balance the high-intensity and low-intensity activities, people need to listen to their bodies, especially when starting an exercise routine or trying different activities.

“For somebody who has a really bad knee or knee arthritis, switch to maybe lower-intensity workouts or think about using the hand bike or the recumbent bike or even swimming,” she said.

Warm Up, Cool Down, and Stretch 

Another to safely stay physically active as you age is to warm up before your exercise—like walking or jogging slowly, doing arm swings and ankle circles, or stretching.

“A proper warm-up should be performed before a workout to help reduce the risk of injury,” Best said. “Stretching can be incorporated into a warm-up routine and can help maintain flexibility even for those who already work out consistently.”

In addition, cooling down and stretching after a workout is just as important to prevent injury from physical activity because it helps to keep muscles flexible.

“Stretching helps with flexibility and balance, which are going to be important when you’re presenting things such as falls at a later age,” Rau said.

Hydrate and Eat a Well-Balanced Diet 

Eating a well-balanced diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein like fish, chicken, beans, and nuts is just as important as exercising, Rau said.

“Core nutrition can contribute to the decline. So, trying to focus on eating a healthy, well-rounded diet, those are going to be important in maintaining your fitness as you age,” she said.

In addition to diet, proper hydration is also key to helping you stay mobile as hydration helps replace lost fluids and regulates body temperature during physical exercise and activity, Best said.

“Hydration also plays an important role in many biological functions,” he said. “This is especially important for aging adults as dehydration becomes more common due to multiple factors.”

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