Getting physically fit isn't just a New Year’s resolution for the young. Research indicates that regular exercise and physical fitness are key to reducing many serious health risks and enjoying a long and active life. And it’s never too late to begin.

Even when you’re old enough to collect social security, fitness should be part of your life, say local exercise trainers who regularly work with clients in their 60s, 70s and beyond. Although they emphasize their role in making sure exercise is appropriate and safe for older people, the enthusiasm and optimism that go with setting and achieving fitness goals never changes.

“Just like any individual starting a fitness routine, we ask older adults what types of health concerns they have, what ailments they need to work around, and what their goals are,” says Dale Huff, co-owner of NutriFormance Fitness, Therapy and Performance. “We also ask when they last saw their primary-care physician and if they were given the green light to start exercising.”

Jamie Rothermich, partner and president of Functional Elements Training + Nutrition Center, adds that it’s a good idea to begin with a professional evaluation of strength, flexibility and ‘antagonistic’ muscle grouping. “Maybe there are some weaknesses in muscle groups that may cause more pressure in others and result in injuries to joints.” Knowing which muscle groups are over-compensating for other weaker ones helps trainers tailor exercises that will help restore functional strength and balance to the entire musculoskeletal system.

In turn, this type of tailored conditioning program helps reduce the risk of falls due to poor balance and lack of flexibility. Huff recommends “body-weight calisthenic-style exercises working on range of motion. It would also be wise to work on balance two to three times per day. Finally, seniors’ exercise should include flexibility work in a manner that is more functional versus static holds. The larger we can keep a client’s functional sphere, the better they will perform at daily activities.” In other words, a good exercise program should help support the type of movements needed to remain independent—reaching, stretching and performing modestly strenuous tasks.

While seniors, like younger people, should challenge themselves, it is important to be mindful of one’s limits. “Exercise should lead to a more energetic day, not a day where you feel run down and need an afternoon nap,” Huff says. “If you are too sore or overly fatigued, this is a sign that maybe you’re starting too aggressively. Some soreness should be expected as you are asking your muscles to do things they aren’t accustomed to doing.”

Nutrition also is an important aspect of overall wellness and should be combined with an appropriate exercise program. “Seniors have to be focused on some specific things,” says Rothermich, who also is certified as a sports dietitian. “One is hydration status. With more activity, they’ll need more water. Also, proper protein intake to facilitate muscle growth and repair. Just like anyone else, seniors need to focus on getting enough quality nutrients to help heal their systems.” Rothermich is not referring to the type of protein-loading done by younger athletes, but notes that protein is important at any age for muscle maintenance.

With professional guidance and observation, any senior can become as fit as possible, making 2014 a healthy, active year.

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