Recently I got a couple of comments from readers asking about how to start exercising in their 60s. One feel that most gyms are not made for sedentary people in their age group. And the other reader, though active, feels that she needs to add some strength training and flexibility to her walking. They both understand that they need to exercise, but the “how to exercise” in their 60s remains a mystery to them.
This post is a discussion on why physical mobility is important and how to start excising in your 50s and 60s in order to maintain your physical mobility when you become a senior, specific examples includes my mom’s exercise routine and recommendations for our two readers that includes a Total Gym and a Bullworker.
I am lucky to be surrounded by physically active seniors in their 70s and 80s (I love being the “kid” in my bowling league). But I am also surrounded by inactive older adults in their 50s and 60s at work who often injured themselves because they want to “get healthy.” Often times these injuries are a result of bad form, bad advice, and confusion about exercising.
Physical mobility is important!
We start planning our retirement decades before we need the money. The same concept holds true for our physical mobility in our 70s and 80s. We need to start exercising regularly decades before we truly need it. And if you have not start by your 50s and 60s, be prepare to lose some of your physical independence when you become a senior.
I am 30 years old and I think about my physical mobility all the time. But I know that I am some what unique in that aspect.
After my car accident a few years ago, I had some difficulties with my physical mobility. It took me 20 minutes the first time I tried walking to the church a block away. By the time I made it to the church steps, I was sweating and panting a little bit. I had to rest for 30 minutes before I made that return trip back to my house. At one point, the Comcast guy stopped what he was doing and asked me if I need a ride back to my house. I remember thinking on those church steps – “this is what it must feel like to be a senior with mobility problems.”
My husband freaked out when he came home from work when I told him about my little excursion. “What if you slip and fall? What if you cannot make it back to the house?”
I replied that “I had all day. Eventually I would have made it back to the house. And if I lie on the sidewalk long enough, someone will eventually ask if I am okay.”
But I was terrified by the idea and understand why some seniors are afraid of traveling some distance from their home.
Physical mobility impacts our quality of life in every aspect. When we cannot move, it difficult to enjoy life. What is the point of accumulating all this wealth for retirement when we do not have the health to enjoy it?
What happens to our physical mobility when we become older?
Exercise Requirements in our 60s
The results we want from exercising remain the same no matter what our age group. We want strength, endurance, and flexibility. And if exercising in our 60s helps with weight control, that is even better.
But there is a difference between exercising in our 60s compare to exercising in our 30s, especially if we have been sedentary for the last 3 decades. Cnn.com has a decade to decade guide to exercise, but it still does not address the issue of how to exercise in your 60s. There will always be people who are in better shape in their 60s than a 30 year old. But that is a small percentage of the population. For the rest of us, we are either out of shape or overweight when we reach our 60s.
So our approach to exercise in our 60s is slow and steady. Our first priority is to prevent injuring ourselves when starting a new exercise routine. Think low impact cardio, strength training with weights or tubes, and core and flexibility training with pilates/yoga. We want exercise that are gentle on our joints, but still make us feel like we did something good for our bodies.
If you are new to strength training, proper form and using the appropriate weight are really important. An older co-worker injured her rotator cuff lifting 5 pounds dumbbells doing lateral raises, thinking that she is strengthening her triceps (the back of the arms). Lateral raises are for strengthening your shoulders and 2-3 pounds are probably more appropriate for a sedentary older woman in her 50s.
What is your workout personality?
The key to establishing an exercise routine is to make it fit your personality. I exercise at home with workout dvds. I am not anti-social, but when I am exercising I am concentrating on my body or listening to my podcasts. I am just not interested in the distraction of conversation. So exercise videos at home “fit” my workout personality. Any advice I give to specific exercises would revolve around workout videos.
For exercise newbies who are intimated by the gym environment, exercise videos are a good way to get started – if you know which ones to use that is. Just like dating, there are plenty of duds in the exercise videos arena. One of my favorite places to find reviews on exercise videos is video fitness and they have a very active forum.
My mom, on the other hand, loves the social aspects of exercising in her walking club. She likes her regularly scheduled get-together with my aunts in the mornings. She would give up exercising with her dvds first before she quits her walking club. So her walking club “fits” her workout personality.
Exercise where you feel the most comfortable
Even though we know that nobody really cares if we look like an idiot at a new piece of equipment at the gym, secretly we cannot but worry that the “regulars” are watching.
My mom (56) also uses a combination of outdoor walking, walking on her treadmill, and exercise dvds.
My previous landlady (mid-70s) uses a combination of outdoor jogging (yes – she still jogs, though it might be mistaken for a fast walk by some people), bowling, and tai chi.
My bowling partner (84) bowls three times a week.
My mom’s neighbor (late 60s) uses a combination of tai chi and outdoor walking with my mom.
My point is that there is no limit to what we can do as exercise outside the gym. The key is to just get started.
How often do I need to exercise in my 60s?
A well balance exercise routine includes a little of everything – resistance training for your muscles, cardio for your heart, and flexibility. It is recommended that we include 30 – 60 minutes of exercise every day for weight maintenance and general good health. Crank that number up to 90 minutes if you are trying to lose weight.That sounds like a lot, but small chunks of daily physical activity counts as well such as gardening or housework.
However, I would not recommend having less than 3 scheduled 30 minute block of time devoted to exercising each week. It is much easier to stick with a scheduled exercise routine than to try and squeeze it in when we have time.
If we schedule a block of time to exercise every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, it gives us structure. And structure becomes routine. And routine becomes a habit. And a habit becomes a lifestyle. And at 60, that should be your goal – to remain physically active in your 70s and 80s.
A sample bare bones beginner exercise routine might look something like this:
Think of this bare bones exercise routine as a “warmup” to an exercise routine. After 2-3 months you will be ready for more. I will give you an example of what my mom’s workout schedule is like later on.
What specific exercises should a woman in her 60s do?
I believe that the most important area to work on in your fitness as you age is your balance. Most of the seniors in my life were physically active, but due to a fall or a slip ends up losing much of their mobility. Once that happens, their health goes downhill really fast. Hence, I always recommend that older adults start adding a pilates/yoga fusion style of exercise into their routine to strengthen their core and balance.
Tai chi also works on your balance. However, from my experience when I was trying to get my mom to exercise regularly, she did not tai chi. My mom thinks it is for “really old people” because of how slowly you flow from one pose to the next. At that time she was in her early 50s.
She even had problems with yoga, unless it is power yoga where change poses at a brisker pace. So a pilates/yoga fusion style works best for her.
It is understandable. My mom is still young. She does not like to be put into the same health category as someone in their 70s – 80s. And 50s – 60s are still pretty young to be lump in the same category as my 84 year old bowling partner.
For my mom, once her scheduled workouts became routine, she started adding more exercise time (hence increasing the intensity). She started a walking club with my aunts where they would walk 4 miles every other day. But it took her almost 2 years to build up to the level of exercise she is getting now.
My mom’s exercise routine:
|Saturday||walking club (or we go hiking when I visit)|
It might seem like my mom does not do enough strength training. Two days of resistance training is usually recommended. But my mom does not like resistance training. So I “sneak it in” with the pilates workout dvds that she is using. Also, notice how “gentle” her exercise routine is to her body.
Hence the bare bones sample exercise routine I mentioned early is a “warmup.” You might find that after 2-3 months, it might be time to increase the intensity.
Specific Exercise DVDs My Mom is Using
I love the “Dummies” series of books when I want to learn anything new. The Dummies series also make a “Dummies series” of exercise videos geared towards the beginner. I find the dummies workout dvds to be really helpful in giving proper techniques and information to newbie exercisers, but they can be boring after a few weeks of use.
I would recommend checking the following titles from Netflix or the library first to gauge whether it is a title that you want to keep.
If you do not have weights initially, use filled water bottles or canned soups until you understand the proper form. You can follow the amazon links to view clips of the exercise videos and see what others are saying about them.
15 Minute Workouts for Dummies (4 segments, 15 minutes each)
Shape Up with Weights for Dummies (45 minutes)
Pilates Workout for Dummies (35 minutes. Both standing and mat work)
My mom loves Ellen Barrett and Leslie Sansone exercise videos. The videos she uses most often are:
The Firm Power Yoga (35 minutes. You burn more calories with power yoga because you move more quickly through each pose compared to regular yoga.)
Crunch – Burn & Firm Pilates (48 minutes). This exercise video uses light weights. See what I mean about “sneaking in strength training for my mom.”
Crunch – Fat Burning Pilates (43 minutes)
Self: Bikini Ready Fast (45 minutes). This exercise video by Ellen Barrett is a light strength training/pilates type of workout.
Pick Your Level: Weight Loss Pilates (35 minutes)
Leslie Sansone: Walk Away the Pounds – Walk Strong (33 minutes). In home walking workout with strength training intervals.
Like I mention before, checkout the video fitness website and forums for more ideas. The ladies at the forums are really helpful to any exercise newbies. I think the growth in my collection of exercise videos and the shrinking of my wallet in the last two years can all be attributed to their forum.
Reader #1 -Total Gym Example
Reader #1 currently walks 3-4 days a week (20 minute/mile) and owns a Total Gym. I cannot tell from her email whether she uses the Total Gym, but from the tone of the email, I am assuming that she does not. Her goal is increase in strength and flexibility.
Cardio: The cardio portion is great, though I would try to work up to a 15 minute/mile, hence completing 2 miles in a 30 minute block. Some people are tempted to strap on weights on their ankles or wrists when walking to increase the intensity. Please do not do that. Having weights so far from your center of gravity (the hip area) throws of your balance and gait when walking. This can lead to walking related injuries. If you feel that you must add intensity, consider a weighted vest instead.
Strength: You can get a complete full body workout from the Total Gym. Looking at the 100 exercises list, there appears to be a good amount to choose from. Just remember to work your front and back muscles group. For example, chest and back or biceps and triceps. You should have an instructions booklet or chart to teach you the exercises.
Pilates/yoga: Though there is a workout DVD that uses the Total Gym for pilates, after the purchase of accessories and the dvds, you are probably going to be out $150-$200. Being on the frugal side, I would rather spend less than $10 on a pilates workout dvd.
Recommended Workout Routine: 3 days of cardio (30 minutes, aiming for 2 miles), minimum 1 day pilates, 2 days of Total Gym (20-30 minutes on non-consecutive days). Of course, you can always combine them and make it a 60 minute block each time (30 minutes cardio + 30 minutes of Total Gym, etc). But I do not recommend it yet because your body might not be used to such a long exercise session.
Reader #2 -Bullworker Example
Reader #2 currently walks most days of the week for 30-40 minutes and owns a Bullworker. Her goal is general health and weight loss.
Cardio: Just like Reader #1, the cardio portion is great. Though I would try to work up to a 15 minute/mile, hence completing 3 miles in a 45 minute block since your goal is weight loss.
Strength: I never even hear of a Bullworker until you mentioned it. But I found a four week training chart of the Bullworker exercises. I am not sure if it might be the same exercise chart that came with the packaging. And there is even a Bullworker club on yahoo groups.
Recommended Workout Routine: 3 days of cardio (45 minutes, aiming for 3 miles), minimum 1 day pilates, 1 day with the Bullworker (20-30 minutes).
If you are considering using exercise videos, consider videos that multi-task. All the videos my mom uses multi-task. The “Dummies” workout are to learn the proper form. Just space it so that you walk between the other two types of exercise. Consider adding in an extra day for either pilates or strength as you get use to this workout routine.
Physical mobility is important!
We start planning our retirement decades before we need the money. The same concept holds true for our physical mobility in our 70s and 80s. We need to start exercising regularly decades before we truly need it. There is no limit to what we can do as exercise outside the gym. The key is to just get started.
Until next time and thanks for stopping by Small Steps to Health. If you like what you are reading, please share it with your friends.
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