Ask the Geriatrician: Exercise

Kobi Nathan

Kobi Nathan, PharmD, MEd, BCGP
Assistant Professor, Pharmacy Practice
Wegmans School of Pharmacy
St. John Fisher College

 

Suppose there was a pill with no harmful side-effects that would tone up your heart, circulation, and lungs, help you lose weight, strengthen your bones, improve your balance and mood, reduce stress, sharpen your mental faculties, and help you sleep better – would you take it? The answer would be an enthusiastic “Yes!” Well, regular exercise does all of the above at any age. In addition, stronger muscles, flexibility, and better balance make falls and injury less likely. 

Q:  Am I too old to exercise?

A:  You are never too old to exercise. Exercise adds life to your years! It will not only keep you in shape, but you will feel better and enjoy life more. As well as the many benefits mentioned above, by keeping you fit, physical activity will help you stay more independent.  

Q:  What kind of exercise is best?

A:  The best kind of exercise is the kind you enjoy and will do every day. Variety is not only the spice of life but of exercise as well. Go for a nature hike, swim, golf, play tennis, lift weights, use exercise machines, walk outside with your dog or inside a mall with your friends, ride a bicycle (good for your balance as well as your muscles), practice dance, yoga, or tai chi - just to name a few. The choice is yours. If possible, form an “exercise group” with your friends, or make new friends. It can become a scheduled social gathering that all of you can look forward to during your week. In addition, being in a group allows you to keep one another motivated and allows you to enjoy the benefits of exercise in the long term. 

Q:  How often do I need to exercise and for how long?

A:  Some exercise every day should be your goal.  Since all exercise adds up, you can even do a few smaller workouts instead of one big one. For example, ten minutes in the morning, at lunchtime, and in the evening still gives you 30 minutes of exercise, even though divided up. 

One suggestion is to walk 10,000 steps each day.  If you find this hard to do, start off with as much exercise as you can, then add on a few more steps or a few more minutes every few days until you reach your goal. You should try some physical activity that gets your heart pumping at least once a day, but this doesn’t have to be overly vigorous. Try walking a little faster than usual or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. 

Q:  I have tried to exercise before, but always got bored. How can I avoid this?

A:  Try having a goal, or a small series of “baby goals.” Ask yourself, “What would I like to achieve by the end of the week?” It could be increasing the number of sit-ups you do by 3 or 5, or maybe increasing your daily walk to a more brisk pace, or increasing the weight of dumbbell you lift by a couple of pounds. The important point to remember is that these small goals should be realistic and achievable. These series of goals can then build on one another, and you can have a bigger goal by the end of the month that you can proudly achieve, all through your own effort. This can be a very powerful motivator to help you maintain your exercise schedule in the long run.  You can even have a social goal as well, such as a vacation to look forward to. Regular exercise can give you the stamina and mental calm to really enjoy your time away. 

Find something you enjoy - try dancing, swimming, or cycling. Having a variety of exercise options helps prevent boredom. 

Also, you may find that you have more energy and are sleeping better after increasing your activity levels. This may help you maintain your motivation to exercise.

Q: Are housework and gardening considered exercise?

A:  Yes, they are gentle exercises, but they still count. Moving around, digging, stretching and bending, and reaching up to dust in high places all give a small but significant benefit, and it all adds up. The important thing to remember is that you are staying mobile and keeping active, which is the main goal. 

Q:  I am in a wheelchair. How can I exercise?

A:  “Exercise is for every body!” This is a slogan of the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability, and they have many good exercises and suggestions for fitness for people in wheelchairs or who have other disabilities. Going through a variety of exercises daily provides the benefits described above, and there are books, articles, videos, and DVDs available to help.

Q:  I have arthritis in my joints and it hurts to exercise. What can I do?

A:  Swimming or water aerobics in a heated pool are good ways to start exercising if you have arthritis. As your muscles get stronger, you might even find your joint pains easing because strong muscles protect joints.

But, if you have severe pain in your joints, or they are red, swollen, or hot to touch, check with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program. 

Q:  I am taking several medicines. Is it okay for me to exercise?

A:  Ask your healthcare provider this question before starting an exercise program, especially if you are taking any kind of heart or blood pressure medicine.

Remember: If you experience shortness of breath, dizziness, cold or clammy skin, nausea, or chest pains while exercising, stop immediately and contact your healthcare provider.

Q:  It is too hot/cold outside to exercise. How can I do it?

A: One idea is mall walking, which has become popular in many places. Groups of older adults meet at regular intervals, walk through the mall, then have a coffee or soft drink together afterward. Some lasting friendships have come out of this. 

Most YMCAs have exercise programs and well-equipped exercise rooms. Many have special classes and rates for older adults, and they are air-conditioned/heated. Exercising plus meeting and talking with others can lift the spirits.

There also are many videotapes and audiotapes with exercise routines that can be used in your own home.

Q:  My neighborhood is too dangerous to go out walking alone. What can I do?

A:  Mall walk, go to the YMCA, or a senior center. If transportation is an issue, see if you can connect with others in a similar situation. Some older adults get together and arrange for a taxicab or van to pick them up two or more days a week, drop them off, then return them home after the outing. It can be affordable if several people share the cost.

You can also ask your local Area Agency on Aging and the nearest Senior Center if there are any free or low-cost transportation options available in your area.

 

Last Updated: September 2019