It’s a well-known fact that exercise is a crucial component of an overall healthy lifestyle at any age. As simple and straightforward as this sounds, there are a many myths and misconceptions surrounding exercise. This is especially the case among seniors. As you age, you may be more apprehensive about starting a new exercise program, or are too afraid to keep working out. No matter which way you look at it, working out has so many benefits that outweigh the risks. It’s time to clear up some of the most common myths surrounding senior exercise programs.
Myth: Exercise is too dangerous.
Fact: The benefits far outweigh any risks. One of the biggest fears seniors have about working out is the risk for injury. It’s true that as you get older, you naturally lose muscle mass and stability. However, not working out means you’ll miss out on a range of cardiovascular benefits. The chances of falling during a workout are less compared with developing heart disease from a lifelong sedentary lifestyle. Exercising throughout adulthood can help minimize any risks, but in any case, it’s best to start out slow when beginning any new workout. Aim for moderate-intense exercises, such as walking and swimming, and gradually increase the time and distance rather than the intensity. This strategy will boost your endurance while minimizing injuries.
Myth: Seniors can only do aerobics.
Fact: Seniors can, and should do all four main types of exercises. This includes aerobics, as well as strength-training, flexibility workouts and balance exercises. Aerobic exercises, such as running, help build endurance and work your heart. Strength-training in the form of weights builds muscle, which is especially crucial for seniors because you naturally lose muscle strength as you age. Flexibility and balance can be achieved through tai chi and yoga, both of which are low-impact and may help prevent future falls.
Myth: Strength-training can replace fat with muscles.
Fact: Fat cannot be transformed into muscle. These are two separate entities that must be worked on separately. Dieting and working out can help decrease overall body fat, while strength-training builds muscle. Overall, it’s harder to keep off body fat and build muscles as you age, which is why it’s important to mix up your workout routine to regularly incorporate all major forms of exercise.
Myth: Working out regularly means you can eat significantly more calories.
Fact: Working out rarely means you need to increase food consumption. Weight maintenance means that you need to burn roughly the same amount of calories you consume through food every day. Once you reach your 50s, you need even fewer calories to meet your energy needs. In fact, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a maximum of 2,800 calories a day for active senior men, and 2,200 for women in the same age group. Sedentary men need an estimated 2,000 calories, while sedentary women need only 1,600 a day.
If you’re trying to lose weight, your daily caloric needs may be much lower. Weight loss occurs when you end up with a calorie deficit. This is best achieved through diet and exercise. So take care when you go through a hard workout. You don’t want to eat more and ultimately gain back all of the calories you burn.
Myth: Exercise is too tough for old, painful joints.
Fact: Working out reduces joint pain in seniors. This sounds like a Catch-22, but persistent exercise can help achy joints–even if you have arthritis. The more you move, the more bone and muscle mass you build. This can help cushion the joints and act as a barrier against pain. Furthermore, regular exercise can help prevent age-related joint pain and osteoarthritis altogether. If you already have joint damage, talk to your doctor about ways you can modify certain exercises. In general, swimming is the best workout for arthritis because the water puts less strain on your joints. Walking is another low-impact choice of exercise when you don’t have access to a swimming pool.
Myth: It’s simply too late to start working out.
Fact: It’s never too late! You can reap the physical, mental and emotional benefits of exercise at any age. These benefits are even more important as a senior because you’re more prone to increased body fat and hormonal imbalances when you reach late adulthood. Exercise can be a preventive measure against such effects of aging without relying on medications. The key is to start off slow and gradually increase the amount and intensity as you get stronger. After just a few weeks of regular exercise, you’ll likely see some immediate benefits, whether it’s clothes fitting looser or a better outlook on life.
Beginning a new workout program requires both patience and dedication at any age. As an older adult, you may need to start off slower than some of your younger counterparts, but don’t let this stop you from reaching your health goals. Remember to discuss any exercise concerns with your doctor before getting started.