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Adapting your workout as you age

Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital May 12, 2015 General Wellness

aging exerciseOne of the best things you can do for your health, no matter how old you are, is exercise. The list of potential benefits from exercising is nearly endless; it can improve your memory, lower your cholesterol, improve your mood, help to control your blood sugar, lose weight, strengthen your muscles and bones, and decrease the severity of health conditions you may already have.

Unfortunately, exercising can become harder to do as we age. Whether it takes a backseat to a busy schedule or gets delayed because of aches and pains, exercise tends to become less of a priority as the years go on. But exercise doesn't have to mean heading to the gym; there are plenty of ways to increase your physical activity during your daily routine, including parking at a spot further away in the parking lot when you're running your errands, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, standing to fold your laundry instead of sitting, standing to hand wash dishes instead of using your dishwasher, or washing your car by hand.

“Make your health a priority now, so that you can continue to do the things you enjoy for years to come.  Take some time to figure out ways each day, to get yourself moving, “ says Allyson Fleischman, PT, DPT, physical therapist at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital.

Don’t let a long to-do list or creaky joints keep you from exercising any longer. Below, Fleischman offers tips for safely transitioning your exercise routine as you age based on the three important components of an exercise program: aerobic activity, strengthening, and stretching.

Aerobic activity

Aerobic activity, also referred to as cardiovascular or ‘cardio’ activity, refers to activities that require you to breathe faster and your heart to pump harder. For some, this might mean running and jogging, but your workout does not need to be this rigorous. Aerobic activity can refer to something as common as taking a brisk walk or taking an organized swimming class.

“You are more likely to stick with an activity that you enjoy. It will keep you coming back to it each day or week. You can ask friends, family, or a spouse to join you, as well. They can keep you accountable if you need to meet them for a walk or at the gym and having someone to workout with makes the time pass more quickly,” says Fleischman.

Some low-intensity aerobic exercises include recumbent biking, swimming, dancing, and yoga.  Many activities can also be performed in a chair, as well, or can be modified for any health issues you may have. These are gentle on the joints, which is important if you have a history of arthritis.

Make sure that, before you start an exercise program, you speak to your physician for medical clearance and ask what routines might be safe for you. Over time, hopefully you'll find that the routines that were once challenging are becoming easier or that you can walk or bike longer without being as tired.

Strength training

Many people, regardless of age, tend to overlook the importance of muscle-strengthening workouts as a key component of a comprehensive exercise routine. Avoid making the same mistake by incorporating strength workouts into your routine twice a week, which can help you from losing muscle as you age and potentially decrease complications from health issues like diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis. More muscle mass also burns more calories at rest, which can help you lose weight.

To reap the benefits of a strength workout, you don’t have to bench press a few hundred pounds. Exercises like mini-squats or standing heel raises that use your own body weight are a great way to get started with strength training. Strengthening exercises can be done laying down, sitting, or standing. Remember to start slowly, and always check with your physician before beginning any routine. You can always check with a physical therapist or instructor at a fitness facility to help you figure out the right strengthening exercises for your specific needs. They can also review with you the correct way to do an exercise to help you avoid injuring yourself. They can also review the correct

Unlike aerobic exercise, which should be done on a daily basis, strength training should only be performed two to three times a week. Give yourself at least 48 hours of rest before strengthening the same muscle group again. Too much strength training in too little time can fatigue your muscles and lead to injury.


Stretching is another activity that is sometimes skipped due to time constraints. It is important to stretch your muscles to decrease potential muscle soreness after a workout and to make sure that muscles are able to work the best of their ability. Make sure you stretch both the front and back of a joint to keep your body balanced and set aside some time with a fitness professional to make sure you have a balance program and the correct form to avoid an injury.

Although fitting exercise into your to-do list can seem daunting, look for windows of opportunity to fit activity into your daily lifestyle. By making your daily life more active, you can ensure a healthy lifestyle both now and later on.

Ready to get started? Make an appointment with a primary care physician to determine what level of fitness is appropriate for you, or check out our archive of fitness articles.