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For many of us, exercise is the secret to staying sane in the most challenging times. Like diet and nutrition, staying active is a crucial tool in fighting our nation’s obesity epidemic. But the benefits go far beyond weight loss. Physical activity makes us healthier and happier. It helps us keep a positive outlook and make social connections. And it helps seniors live longer and maintain a higher quality of life. The amount and type of exercise you need depends on your age and health status. But the goal for all ages and fitness levels is to avoid a sedentary lifestyle. We can find ways to keep everyone active, regardless of age or fitness level, but sometimes we need a little help along the way.
What Types of Exercise Are Important?
It’s essential to balance different types of activities to meet your wellness needs. Remember, the focus isn’t just on burning calories or losing weight. It’s also about getting stronger and staying healthy as you age.
- Aerobic (or cardio) workouts make you breathe harder and make your heart beat faster. They burn calories and boost endurance.
- Muscle-strengthening activities like resistance or weight training help build and tone muscles.
- Bone-strengthening activities, including running, jumping, and resistance exercises, are especially beneficial as you age.
- Balance and stretching activities boost stability and flexibility and can help avoid injury.
How Much Exercise Do We Need at Different Ages?
The Department of Health and Human Services offers general guidelines for a range of different age groups. One key at any age is to find activities we enjoy, so that physical activity is something to look forward to rather than a chore. We want to find activities we love and stick with them for fitness and fun.
Preschool Age Children
Most young children tend to be little whirlwinds. They usually don’t need pre-planned exercise schedules, just lots of active play. Parents should offer children a range of opportunities for physical activity to help with growth and development. Include outside playtime when possible. The preschool period can also be an excellent time to introduce young children to organized sports like soccer, T-ball, and swimming in a fun, low-pressure way.
Children and Adolescents
According to HHS, children 6 to 17 years old should get at least an hour of exercise every day. It’s helpful to include a mix of aerobic exercise with strength and bone density exercises. Jumping rope, push-ups, curl-ups, and free weights (with supervision) for older kids can help build strength. Be creative about how you get in those 60 minutes each day. Some kids love organized sports. For others, family walks and bike rides are more enjoyable. The most important thing is to make it fun, so kids see exercise as an outlet rather than a burden.
One of the most significant health risks for adults today is leading a sedentary lifestyle. According to HHS, for substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, or 75 to 150 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic physical activity. Moderate intensity activities could include walking, golf, tennis, and swimming. Some higher-intensity options include running, biking, high-intensity fitness classes. HHS also recommends muscle-strengthening workouts at least two days a week. We can achieve this with weights, resistance workouts, and some types of yoga.
Staying fit and active has many physical, mental, and social benefits for seniors. In general, the same guidelines for adults apply to seniors with a few additions. Seniors should focus on strength training for bone health, since exercising with weights has been shown to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Seniors can also benefit from core strengthening exercises and other activities to improve balance and help prevent injuries from falls.
One warning is that older adults should consider fitness levels and chronic conditions when thinking about an exercise program. HHS recommends gradually increasing physical activity over time. Inactive people should “start low and go slow,” ramping up as their fitness level improves. There is indeed an appropriate activity for everyone. If you have a low baseline fitness level, consider starting with gentle yoga, water aerobics, tai chi, or walking. Your doctor may recommend a physical therapy program for adults with chronic illness.
Staying Active: How Can My Orthopaedist Help?
One issue we see is folks getting sidelined and becoming sedentary after a surgery or injury. Older adults are most at risk and can experience a negative cycle of depression and inactivity. At Countryside Orthopaedics, this is an issue we work hard to prevent and address.
One important factor is identifying repetitive motion injuries and other problems before they become dangerous. If your favorite activities start to become painful, talk with your orthopaedist about physical therapy, surgery, and other options for staying active safely.
Another consideration is the role of a high-quality physical therapy program following an injury or surgery. Physical therapy can help at any age but is crucial for older adults. If you’re injured or have a joint replacement or other surgery, it’s essential to get moving again as soon as possible. A professional physical therapy program:
- Helps build strength and mobility gradually and safely.
- Offers best practices for resuming sports and exercise programs safely.
- Provides conditioning and strategies for avoiding reinjury.
As orthopedic surgeons with a team of skilled physical and hand therapists on staff, our focus is always on getting you back to the activities you love–and a lifestyle that keeps you healthy from 8 to 80 and beyond. Now more than ever, exercise is an essential component of physical and mental well-being. And when setbacks occur, we won’t let them stop you. Instead, we’ll help you rebuild and get active again.