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Health Information Physical Activity and Successful Aging

As you might have guessed, the ability to age gracefully doesn't come in a bottle. It takes a little bit of work -- exercise is part of that.

"Many of the important systems in the body (heart, lungs, brain, muscle and bone) become vulnerable as we age," says Diane Genaze, PT, director of physical therapy at Rush University Medical Center. "We need to give them that little bit of healthy stress to keep them functioning optimally. Exercise can provide just the right kind of stress."

"Regular physical activity, especially when it includes some resistance training and weight-bearing exercises, takes on a new importance as we get older because after a certain age we begin to lose muscle mass," says Genaze. "The good news is that you can do something about it—exercise. The bad news is that you'll need to challenge yourself a bit to gain the some of that muscle mass back," she says.

"Of course, you'll want to consult with your doctor first before starting any major change in the amount or intensity of your regular physical activity," Genaze recommends. "Also, if you've been having trouble with your balance or coordination, you need to have that evaluated before you start, too. After the evaluation, you'll get information on any modifications you may need to make in your physical activity to keep you safe from falling."

When you think of the mix of your physical activity for the week, you should participate in activities that incorporate these elements:

  • Cardiovascular (walking, running, riding a bike, dancing, etc.)
    • Works the heart, lungs and vascular system; good for circulation
  • Strength (lifting weights, using resistance bands, etc.)
    • Strengthens the muscles and can improve balance
  • Flexibility (stretching, yoga, etc.)
    • Helps prevent muscle and joint injury
  • Balance and coordination (walking, tai chi, dancing, yoga, etc.)
    • Helps prevent falls

Genaze suggests starting easy and building up. "For example, your cardiovascular work could begin with walking 10 minutes a day and adding about two minutes each day until you're up to a 30-minute walk," she says.

You may want to consider taking an exercise class at your local park, community center or health club. You church, temple or synagogue may offer classes, too. A class has the benefit of having a teacher to provide structure, support and guidance. You can even use videotaped exercise instruction with caution (because you won't be given one-on-one guidance from an instructor).

Another way to stay active, both physically and socially, is to start your own exercise group, like a walking club, or finding a workout buddy. The encouragement of others can really help keep you going.

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • For information on physical medicine at Rush visit the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation home page. Or call (800) 757-0202.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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