NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Fitness, strength and flexibility do not inevitably fade away with age, and are more often a matter of lifestyle choices, according to a new report.
Often, the discomforts of middle-age, like lower back pain or stiff joints, are blamed on aging alone. However, a well-rounded exercise routine that includes aerobic activity, strength training and stretching can help people offset the effects of aging, according to the report in the Mayo Clinic Health Letter.
Studies show that regular exercise can lower the risks of chronic ills like diabetes and heart disease, boost immune function, alleviate fatigue and cut the risk of disability in older adults.
People of any age can start exercising, even if they’ve never been active, the report says. However, sedentary people should always talk with their doctors first, particularly if they have any chronic medical conditions.
To get the most benefits, exercisers should try to fit in five types of activity, according to the Mayo report. One is aerobic exercise — any type of movement, like walking or riding a bike, that raises the heart rate and gets you breathing harder. A good beginning, the report says, is to exercise aerobically for 30 to 60 minutes three times per week, working toward a five-day-per-week goal.
Strengthening exercises, such as lifting hand weights or doing push-ups, are important to maintaining muscle mass and strength. Most people will quickly notice improvements after strength training just two or three times per week, for about 20 minutes per session, according to the report.
It’s also important to fit in stretching to boost flexibility, balance exercises to improve coordination and lower injury risk, and “core stability” training — exercises that focus on the muscles of the trunk.
All of these activities do require proper technique, the report notes, so it is a good idea to begin by taking an exercise class or getting advice from a professional, such as a doctor, exercise trainer or physical therapist.
SOURCE: Mayo Clinic Health Letter, February 2009.