Exercise: How to Get Started

Choosing Your Activities

Many Choices for Staying Active

There are many ways to stay active. No matter what your age, you can find activities that meet your fitness level, physical abilities, and needs. Health experts say that older adults should be active every day to maintain their health, whether through physical activity or regular exercise. When thinking about ways to be active, consider doing exercises that you can fit into your daily life. Choose activities that appeal to you and that suit your lifestyle, budget, and health.

Do What You Enjoy

Find activities you truly enjoy. If you prefer individual activities, try swimming, gardening, or walking. Dancing or playing tennis may be for you if you enjoy two-person activities. If group activities appeal to you, try a sport such as basketball or join an exercise class. Some people find that going to a gym regularly or working with a fitness trainer helps them stay motivated.

Consider Your Schedule and Budget

There are a number of ways to fit exercise and physical activity into your schedule. For example, you can be active in short spurts throughout the day, or you can set aside specific times of the day on specific days of the week to exercise. Another way is to combine physical activity with a task that's already part of your day, such as walking the dog or doing household chores. You could also check out an exercise video from the library or use the fitness center at a local senior center.

Look for activities that are in line with your budget. Many physical activities -- such as brisk walking, raking leaves, or taking the stairs whenever you can -- are free or low cost and do not require special equipment

Health Considerations

Of course, you should consider your health when deciding which activities you would like to do. You may want to talk with your doctor if you aren't used to energetic activity and you want to start a vigorous exercise program or significantly increase your physical activity. You also should talk with your doctor if you have recently had hip or back surgery, or you have uncontrolled health problems, or chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or arthritis. Doctors rarely tell people not to exercise, but they may have certain safety tips for those who have these conditions.

Choose Variety

Most people tend to focus on one type of exercise or activity and think they're doing enough. Consider adding variety into your activity routine. Try to choose activities that include all four types of exercise -- endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance -- because each type has different benefits. Doing one kind also can improve your ability to do the others. In addition, variety helps reduce boredom and risk of injury.

Endurance Exercises

Examples of physical activities that build endurance include:

  • brisk walking
  • yard work (mowing, raking)
  • dancing
  • aerobics classes
  • jogging
  • swimming, water exercises
  • biking
  • climbing stairs or hills
  • playing tennis
  • playing basketball

Strength Exercises

Examples of physical activities that build strength include:

  • lifting weights
  • using a resistance band
  • Pilates

Balance Exercises

Examples of physical activities that improve balance include:

  • standing on one foot
  • heel-to-toe walk
  • Tai Chi

Flexibility Exercises

Examples of physical activities that increase flexibility include:

  • shoulder and upper arm stretch
  • calf stretch
  • yoga

How Much, How Often?

Try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity endurance activity on most or all days of the week. If you don't have 30 minutes in your daily routine to be active, look for three 10-minute periods. Getting this amount every day is best, but doing anything is better than doing nothing at all. When you do strength exercises, try to do them for all of your major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week for 30-minute sessions each, but don't do strength exercises of the same muscle group 2 days in a row.

Do You Need a Trainer?

If you're not used to exercising, you may want to work with a personal fitness trainer. One of the best ways to find a personal trainer is to get a referral from someone you know who has a great trainer. Ask your friends and family or your health care provider. You also can check with a local health club or senior center. Once you have a couple of names, here are a few questions to help you pick the right person. If you can answer YES to most of these questions, you're probably on the right track.

Education and Experience of the Trainer

  • Does the trainer have a certification from an accredited organization?
  • Does the trainer have education or experience in exercise science, aging, and program design?
  • Does the trainer have at least 2 years of experience, including experience training people your age?
  • Will the trainer be able to develop an exercise program based on your goals, abilities, and health?
  • Has the trainer worked with people with your medical conditions?
  • Does the trainer know how to personalize your exercises based on medications you take?

Personality of the Trainer

  • Did the trainer listen carefully to you and answer your questions?
  • Does the trainer have a sense of humor and a personality that you like?

Business Practices of the Trainer

  • Has the trainer told you what to expect from the sessions?
  • Are the costs of the sessions and the cancellation policy clearly stated?
  • Is the trainer insured or bonded?
  • Will the trainer give you a list of clients so you can check references?

There are so many ways to stay active. No matter what your age, you can find activities that meet your fitness level, physical abilities, and needs.