Physical exercise is one of the most important activities that seniors should engage in. It’s best to start an exercise routine as an early adult, so that physical activity becomes an ingrained part of your life. If you’re accustomed to working out three or four times a week, you’ll miss it if you stop. However, you can start an exercise program at any time; it’s never too late.
In later middle age (age 45 to 65), we reach our peak earning years and have enough disposable income to contract out jobs that we used to do ourselves — raking leaves, for instance, or other physical labor around the house. As our children grow older and spend more time among each other, there’s less activity involving the kids too. As a result, the decline in physical condition continues and even accelerates. Physical activity may pick up modestly in the early retirement years, as we have free time for golf, tennis, and other pursuits, but by the time we reach our mid-70s, physical disabilities may limit our ability to stay active.
How to Stay Active
Physical fitness does not only mean going to a gym four times a week, or running in the park, or engaging in some other activity that has no purpose other than pure exercise. You can lead your life in a way that maximizes physical activity, and you can get started at a young age so that healthy habits become part of your life.
Foremost is simply walking. Traditional communities are organized such that residents can walk to wherever they need to get to — mostly the food market, but also houses of friends and relatives, the community center, a place of worship, schools and clinics, and the like. Urban environments, small towns, and communities throughout the developing world are still arranged in this way, but suburban environments force residents to drive; for busy people, it’s impractical to walk even 1 or 2 miles to a supermarket, much less the 5 miles plus that’s more likely. And more, with these distances, we make trips to the supermarket on a weekly rather than a daily basis, meaning that we have to purchase several bagfuls of groceries with each trip. Even if we were to put on our hiking shoes and trek the five miles, we’d need a team of porters to get everything home again.
If you’re retired, you will have more time for walking. It may be impractical for you to walk to the market to do your shopping; if there’s a small corner store that’s closer to you and you simply need a loaf of bread or some instant coffee, then take the time to walk. If you have a close friend whom you visit each week for a few hours of conversation, rather than sitting at the coffee table having cake, take long walks together. If you’ve taken up photography, take your camera with you and find subjects. If you live 8 miles from the beach, drive halfway there, park your car, and set out on foot. Walk briskly — you want your heart rate to accelerate — but don’t walk so briskly that you can’t converse normally. Wear comfortable shoes — tennis shoes are best — and bring a light jacket. When you stop walking, you may feel a chill from light perspiration.
Even everyday excursions present possibilities for an extra 5 or 10 minutes of walking. When you drive to the Wal-Mart, park at the far end of the lot; if you purchase many things, you can use a shopping cart to wheel everything back to your car. Inside the store, take the opportunity to walk down every aisle, whether you need something from that aisle or not; pretend that you’re doing consumer research. And whenever you have the opportunity to use stairs rather than an elevator, choose the stairs. If your destination is the 40th floor, you may not manage, but there’s no reason a fit 65-year-old can’t scale 15 or 20 floors via the staircase. (But work yourself up to it!)
At home, do chores using more effort rather than less. Use the sink to wash dishes rather than the dishwasher; using your arms and hands to vigorously scrub pots and pans will gradually build muscle tone. Likewise, use vigor when mopping your floor or scrubbing your bathtub. Even if you can easily afford a housekeeper, consider letting her go and doing the work yourself. If you loathe housework, whenever your housekeeper does your chores for you, make a point to engage in a substitute physical activity during that time — take long walks, play tennis or racquetball, work in the yard.
And doing your own yard work is great way to save money as well as get exercise. If you have a riding lawnmower, sell it and purchase a push mower; besides getting you to build up a sweat, a push mower is easier to maneuver. If you have a very small lawn, a traditional non-gasoline-powered mower with spinning blades is all you need. By the end of the summer, your chest and arm muscles will be tight as a drum. Rake your own leaves; shovel your own snow; prune your own azaleas.
Even if you’re sitting inside watching television, purchase a pair of dumbbells that you can lift while you’re stationary. They don’t need to be heavy, and you can do your lifting gradually, over the course of your news program or ballgame.
You’ll soon feel positive results from your activity, and will feel more robust and energetic in general. Soon, you’ll be looking for other ways to use your body more, not less.