My ancient workout clothes are folded neatly (and squished) beneath a pile of sweaters on a shelf in my closet. They were cute — from the ‘90s — when I cared very much about how I looked at the gym. Decades later, I skip the gym and instead walk most days and do body weight exercises, all while clad in a sweatshirt and yoga pants. But whenever I see my old gym outfit (blue leotard “overalls” with a cropped tee shirt built in), I wonder if maybe I’d get more from a gym workout. It wouldn’t be hard to jump back in, would it?
Just a second
It turns out, it’s smarter to ease back into a gym workout when we’re older, even if we’ve been active. And if you’ve been sedentary for a long time, it’s even more important. Why? Because our bodies change as we age. “We lose muscle mass and strength as we get older, and the muscles become less flexible and less hydrated,” says Dr. Clare Safran-Norton, clinical supervisor of rehabilitation services at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
There can be are other changes, too: arthritis that weakens joints, and vision changes, neurological disease, joint pain, or inner ear problems that can throw off balance. There may also be underlying conditions we aren’t aware of, such as high blood pressure or heart disease, that can increase the risk for severe health consequences if we try to exercise today with the vigor of our youth.
The downside of jumping right back in
If you’ve been sedentary for a long time, jumping back into a workout sets you up for injury. “Lifting weights that are too heavy or taking an exercise class that’s too strenuous often causes trouble, and it’s usually a muscle tear or a strain,” says Dr. Safran-Norton.
Other risks include
- rotator cuff tears, from arthritic shoulders with bone spurs that can rub on a tendon
- falls that result from poor balance, and broken bones from the falls
- heart attack or stroke from an intense workout, particularly if you have undiagnosed high blood pressure or heart problems.
You might also fail to recognize symptoms of heart disease if you are taking medications that mask them, such as beta blockers. If you are taking beta blockers and start exercising again, you should stop if you experience any symptoms that could indicate heart disease.
A new routine
Before beginning any kind of exercise program after being sedentary, get the all-clear from your doctor, especially if you have heart disease, risk factors for heart disease, or lung problems. Ask if you need to monitor your heart rate during exercise.
Once you have the green light, think about what type of exercise routine appeals to you, such as taking a tai chi or yoga class, doing a gym or home workout, or going for a brisk daily walk. Make it something you’ll want to do, so you’ll stick with the program.
Think of your current abilities as you consider your options. “If it’s a yoga, cycling, or tai chi class, you’ll need adequate strength and flexibility. You need to be able to do the basics, like raise your arms over your head and lift your legs easily,” Dr. Safran-Norton says.
Then, ease into exercise. “Start with a low-intensity workout for 20 or 30 minutes. Increase the intensity and length over time,” suggests Dr. Safran-Norton. “It’s the same for working with weights. Try a slight resistance at first, and then moderate.”
The wiser workout
To avoid injury, warm up your muscles before exercising, particularly if you are out of shape. Dr. Safran-Norton recommends five minutes of brisk walking or time on an elliptical machine to get blood flowing to the muscles to make them pliable. You’ll need to stretch afterward and repeat the whole process two or three times a week.
Don’t feel self-conscious if you’re not the fittest person in the room, if you need to modify a particular exercise, or if you need to take breaks. And don’t feel funny about your gym attire. We’re all older and wiser about health. And we know now that it’s more important to feel good than to look good.
Below are spiritual recipe for health and wellness: Matthew E. McLaren
Psalm 13:5-6 But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
Psalm 91:16 “With a long life I will satisfy him And let him see My salvation.”
Psalm 118:14 The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation.
Isaiah 12:1-3 Then you will say on that day, “I will give thanks to You, O LORD; For although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, And You comfort me. “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the LORD GOD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation.” Therefore you will joyously draw water From the springs of salvation.
Jeremiah 8:15 We waited for peace, but no good came; For a time of healing, but behold, terror!
John 5:6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?”
1 Thessalonians 5:23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Samuel 25:6 and thus you shall say, ‘Have a long life, peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have.
2 Samuel 20:9 Joab said to Amasa, “Is it well with you, my brother?” And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him.
Jeremiah 33:6 ‘Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them; and I will reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth.
Matthew 15:31 So the crowd marveled as they saw the mute speaking, the crippled restored, and the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.
Acts 4:9-12 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead–by this name this man stands here before you in good health. “He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone.
Deuteronomy 23:13 and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement.
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