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Whether it’s fall prevention or managing your blood sugar, there’s a plan that’s right for your health goals.
Exercise can’t stop the aging process, but it’s still one of the best things you can do to help add years to your life. Moving more every day chips away at the damaging effects of a not-so-active lifestyle, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. And it helps to prevent, or at least slow down, the development of chronic diseases and disabling conditions.
What should you do with this information? Take it to heart. And have fun with it.
No matter what kind of movement you do in a day, it all adds up. But if you’re looking for specific results, such as keeping your blood pressure in check or preventing bone loss, there are certain types of exercises that you can try.
Below are a few workouts to help meet your goals.
Safety reminder: Check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program. This is especially important if you have a chronic condition or are returning from an injury or surgery.
Your Goal: Let Go of Stress
Your Go-To Moves: Walking and Yoga
“Physical activity is definitely mental medicine,” says Dean Somerset, a certified exercise physiologist and certified strength and conditioning specialist. “Your brain experiences the release of feel-good brain chemicals when you’re exercising, whether you’re doing high- or low-intensity activities.”
Try starting each day with a 20-minute walk, he suggests. Along the way, let the sights and sounds distract you.
Another option? Yoga. A 2017 report in the journal Mindfulness found that a regular yoga practice can help boost energy levels in older adults. One reason is the meditative aspect of yoga — as you move through the poses, your mind pulls away from negative thoughts.
And like other forms of exercise, yoga also releases endorphins (those feel-good chemicals Somerset mentioned) and increases blood flow to the brain.
To get started, try the five recommended poses for beginners found here.
Your Goal: Care for Your Heart
Your Go-To Moves: Cardio and Strength Training
To help keep your blood pressure in check and decrease the likelihood of heart disease and stroke (the nation’s No. 1 and No. 5 killers, respectively), you should get more active.
The American Heart Association encourages people of any age to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, every week. Aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
Low-impact cardio (aka aerobic) workouts can be great for the heart because they raise your heart rate and burn calories. It doesn’t matter if you climb stairs, swim, ride a bike or walk the dog, as long as you’re moving your body at a fairly brisk pace.
How brisk? Make sure you can still speak full sentences while you move. This can help improve your health without making your heart rate too high. Another way to check your speed is to count the steps you take in one minute, then divide by 30. Taking 90 steps per minute would be about 3 miles per hour, which is a brisk pace for most people.
Also, try to work in some strength training twice a week. A 2019 report in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that lifting weights may help reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke by 40% to 70%.
You can get a great strength workout with some dumbbells or resistance bands, or some bodyweight exercises (such as planks and wall sits).
Not sure where to start? Check out the dumbbell and resistance band exercises here.
Your Goal: Protect Your Bones
Your Go-To Moves: Strength Training and Walking
Strength training doesn’t just help your heart. It helps strengthen bones, too.
That’s because it counts as a weight-bearing exercise — meaning your bones are supporting weight. The force of that weight on your bones is important for building and maintaining bone density, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
Walking, dancing, tennis, hiking and fitness classes like Zumba count as weight-bearing exercises, too. And if you’ve ever used the treadmill or elliptical machines at a gym, you were doing your bones a favor as well.
In between your designated workouts, you can sneak in some bone-strengthening moves as you go about your day. When you’re folding laundry, for example, you can do 10 to 20 heel raises (rise up on your toes and back down).
Before you tackle a sink full of dirty dishes, press your palms on the edge of the counter, take a step back, and do five to 10 modified push-ups (bend your elbows and bring your chest toward the counter, then straighten your arms).
Your Goal: Avoid Falling
Your Go-To Moves: Tai Chi and Balance Training
The Mayo Clinic notes that “nearly any activity that keeps you on your feet and moving, such as walking, can help you maintain good balance.”
That said, there are some specific movements you can add to your daily routine that focus on boosting your balance. At home, you can try simply shifting your weight from one leg to another, or balancing on one foot and holding it for 30 seconds or more.
Another great balance challenge is to practice getting up from a kitchen chair without using your arms. Repeat all of these moves a few times every day. (Stand near a wall or countertop for support, if needed.)
For a more dedicated balance-building workout, try full-body movement activities such as tai chi, yoga and Pilates. In their own way, each of these strengthen the chain of muscles that make up your core — abs, glutes, hips and back. That’s key because you need a strong base to keep you steady.
These exercise styles also ask your muscles and limbs to move fluidly in different directions, which in turn helps improve your flexibility and coordination, according to the American Council on Exercise.
If you can’t get to a class right now, search the internet for different videos. Or download an app.
Your Goal: Keep Your Mind Sharp
Your Go-To Moves: Yoga
Yoga’s combination of stretching, breathing, fitness and meditation is good for your body and your brain, says yoga instructor Terrie Arfi.
“When I’m learning a new pose, I have to think about it and break down the steps of what I’m doing,” she says.
Yoga not only helps her stay sharp, but her students, too — especially those in the class for people experiencing memory loss. “They need to practice following the instructions,” she explains, like lifting one arm and then the other, “and that keeps their minds more alert.”
Science backs her up: A study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that cognitive performance after a 20-minute yoga session was “significantly superior,” compared to 20 minutes of aerobic exercise.
Despite its reputation for tricky balances and pretzel-like poses, yoga can be enjoyed by everyone. Look into instructional DVDs or apps like Daily Yoga, which has a series of beginner-friendly tutorials.
Your Goal: Control Your Blood Sugar
Your Go-To Moves: Low-Impact Cardio and Strength Training
Swimming, bike riding and other types of low-impact exercises help your muscles absorb glucose. And that can make it easier for your body to maintain healthy glucose levels, reports the American Diabetes Association.
The timing of your exercises can also make a difference. Older adults with prediabetes who took a 15-minute walk after each meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) reported fewer blood sugar spikes than those who walked at other times of the day, notes a study in Diabetes Care.
Strength training plays a role, too: Lifting weights increases muscle mass, which can help you burn more calories and keep blood glucose levels in check, according to researchers at the Life Sciences Institute at the University of Michigan.