When you ‘reach a certain age,’ health recommendations begin to change. Certain screenings and immunizations become more important. But one thing that doesn’t change as we age is the recommended amount of exercise.
“There really is no difference from one gender or age group to another. Everyone should get at least 30 minutes per day of cardiovascular exercise, five days a week, to help ward of disease and keep your heart healthy,” says local weight-loss coach Charles D'Angelo. His statement is echoed by a number of other local experts, all agreeing that age doesn’t mean we should move any less.
“Ideally, every generation would do something active every day,” says Dale Huff, owner of Nutriformance. He notes that the intensity and duration of exercise can, and should, vary, but making exercise a priority is the key.
While national organizations, such as the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Health Association, recommend the daily 30-minute workout across age groups, modifications are needed to account for mobility and fitness level, says Dr. Shane Stephenson, a Mercy St. Louis family physician. “The first priority when thinking about fitness is to set goals,” he says. “From those goals, it’s easier to individually tailor an exercise program. As you might imagine, a variety of exercises to improve physical fitness is recommended for all adults, including cardiovascular, neuromuscular, flexibility, endurance, balance and agility training.”
If you haven’t exercised regularly for a while and are not physically fit, talk to your primary-care physician to ensure the safety of your fitness plan. Once you are cleared to exercise, a few basic moves for beginners include wall push-ups, abdominal squeezes (sit up straight or stand and flex your stomach) and chair squats, recommends Josiah Jones, an exercise physiologist with St. Luke’s Hospital Therapy Services. Although slight discomfort while exercising is common, real pain is not, he adds.
Huff and other fitness experts consider age and ability when creating an individual exercise program, and he notes that various age groups tend to have certain challenges. For example, “Twenty-somethings are struggling to get into a consistent routine for a few reasons,” he says. “First, they may be coming out of a very structured exercise program as an athlete or student, and now are floundering to get a solid schedule. Also, their lives are ever-changing with college, grad school, a first job, etc., that makes it difficult to maintain a solid fitness program.”
Middle-aged adults tend to be busy with work, social and family responsibilities, which can make a regular exercise routine difficult. “We try and get this group focused on safe metabolic workouts that address cardiovascular conditioning, strength and power,” Huff says. “We supplement these workouts with exercise that our clients love—bike rides with family, long walks, yoga, etc. Incorporating family activities to instill healthy values for your children is key during this time.”
When the kids go off to college, Huff encourages active, middle-aged adults to use their new freedom to try new activities, such as tennis or golf, while maintaining strength through resistance-training. Older adults may need to consider adding posture, flexibility and balance exercises to their established routines.
“Neuromuscular training is recommended for adults 60 and older, but is encouraged for all,” Stephenson says. “These exercises include tai chi, yoga and pilates because they can develop balance and help prevent falls. Notably, there is evidence that vitamin D supplementation also helps prevent falls.”
The bottom line is to just do something. “The reality is that any exercise is fine at any age, as long as you do it consistently making it a lifestyle habit,” D’Angelo says. “We forget how much we can do to add years to our lives through simple changes in choice.”