On this page: Benefits of Exercise | Exercise Basics | Stretching | Aerobic Exercise | Resistance Training
Exercise is One of the Best Ways to Combat the Effects of Aging:

Getting Started:

Exercise with a friendMake it fun and exercise with a friend. These are two of the best ways to assure that you'll stick to a regular program of exercise.

Above all, avoid injury:
A painful joint, a sore foot, or any other injury is a sure way to bring a well-intentioned exercise program to an immediate halt.
Start out with the right equipment, such as well-fitting, supportive tennis shoes. Be aware that tennis shoes have a very limited life and wear out quicker than you might think. Check with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program. If you have chest pain, feel faint or light-headed, or become extremely out of breath while exercising, stop the activity at once and tell your doctor as soon as possible.

Exercise Basics:

1) Warm up: Begin an exercise program with a warm up for 5 to 10 minutes, before stretching. Easy walking is a good warm up.

2) Stretching
reduces muscle stiffness and helps keep joints flexible. Never stretch muscles when they're cold, as this can lead to injuring the muscle. Stretching cold muscle is kind of like stretching cold gum. Either stretch after a warm up or stretch after you exercise, when your muscles are warm and more conducive to stretching. However, if you plan to stretch only after your workout, increase the intensity of the activity more slowly than you would if you had stretched your muscles before exercising. see below for stretching exercises

3) Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and lungs and is the best way to stay fit and healthy. In aerobic exercise, you continually move large muscles in the legs and buttocks. Bike ridingThis action causes you to breathe more deeply and your heart to work harder to pump blood, thereby strengthening your heart and lungs. Aerobic exercise involves continuous activity that will increase your heart rate and maintain it at a higher rate for a sustained period of time, such as for 20-60 minutes.

How long? Beginners might want to start with as little as three 10-minute walks a day, most days of the week.  People who are younger and more fit might want to aim for as much as 60 minutes a day, most days of the week. The American Heart Association recommends an exercise program that builds up to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day on most days each week. However, to lose weight and keep it off, 55 minutes per day, five days per week, in addition to cutting calories, has been shown to be more successful.

How intense? To achieve the benefits of aerobic exercise, the activity must be continuous, without stopping, and strenuous enough to cause a slight but noticeable increase in breathing and heart rate. Hard enough to break a sweat, but not so hard that you can't comfortably carry on a conversation.(1) If you monitor your heart rate during exercise, what should it be? Calcuate your target heart rate for your age, using this calculater.

While moderate exercise has a protective effect on the heart, exercising too intensely might do harm, according to Greek researchers from Athens Medical School. In their 2010 study, male marathon runners had significantly increased stiffness of the aorta when compared with people who took part in moderate, recreational exercise. The aorta is the major artery leading from the heart and is the largest and most important artery in the body.  Stiffness of the aorta can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and even death. 

What are aerobic activities? Walking briskly, bicycling or using a stationary bicycle, swimming, running, jogging, stepping machine or climbing stairs, vigorous dancing, ice skating or roller skating, aerobics (regular or low impact) cross-country skiing, rowing and playing racquetball or tennis. Riding a bike is an excellent aerobic exercise that will also strengthen the quadriceps muscles, (thigh muscles) that stabilize the knee joint.  Knee injuries are extremely common in not only athletes but in the aging population who suffer from declining muscular strength in the quadriceps.  

4) Cool down after aerobic exercise and get your heart rate back to a resting rate by doing a scaled-down version of the main workout. For example, if your main workout was jogging or a brisk walk, easy walking is a good cool down exercise.   You may elect to stretch after cooling down.

5) Resistance training improves muscle strength, flexibility, endurance, dexterity, and balance. Lifting weightsResistance training is repetitive, low-weight lifting and is recommended for adults of all ages. (Note: Always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.)  Exercise two to three times weekly with at least 1 day of rest between sessions.  It is advisable to to have a physical therapist design a program to meet your specific needs.  Injuries to such fragile joints as the shoulder can easily occur from  improper techniques.

18 reasons to exercise: 

  1. Promote weight loss and burn fat
  2. Strengthen muscles
  3. Increase endurance
  4. Increase energy
  5. Decrease pain from arthritis
  6. Improve quality of sleep
  7. Improve blood cholesterol & triglyceride levels
  8. Strengthen the heart
  9. Improve hypertension
  10. Lower blood sugar
  11. Improve immune function
  12. Improve balance and prevent falls in the elderly
  13. Lower the risk of breast cancer
  14. Ward off viruses & other common illnesses
  15. Help relieve symptoms of depression
  16. Promote a sense of well-being
  17. Improve self image and self-esteem.
  18. Diminish facial wrinkles

Serious about losing weight but getting nowhere?
Keep this in mind:

  • Muscle mass is actually lost when there is weight loss without exercise.
  • Muscle burns calories, fat does not.
  • Exercising twice a day--morning and evening, increases your basal metabolic rate for a full 24 hours.    This can result in burning more calories for the same amount of exercise and also translates to burning more calories while you sleep.
  • Severely restrictive diets without exercise can reduce metabolic rate by up to 30 percent, thus markedly decreasing your ability to burn calories.
  • After the age of 25 our body naturally gains 1 pound per year (if nothing else changes).
  • Adults lose 10 percent of their muscular strength for every decade of life

In the News


Stretching: This can make daily activities easier and help prevent injury during exercise. Stretching should always be done after a warm up before starting exercise.  This will prepare the muscles for exercise and decrease the chances of injury.  You may want to stretch after an exercise, but it's not necessary.  Stretch slowly (without bouncing) to the point where you feel a mild tension, relax and hold the stretch for 30 seconds. The feeling of tension should diminish as you hold the position.  If it does not, ease off slightly until you find a degree of tension that is comfortable. Do not bounce or stretch to the point of pain.   During each stretch, breathe naturally, slowly, and under control. Do not hold your breath. Repeat each stretch 3 times.

Heel-cord stretchHeel-cord stretch:  Stand facing a wall, about a foot away.  Place both hands on the wall for balance. Put one foot behind you.  Slightly bend the front knee. Keep the front heel down. Keep the back leg straight and the back heel down. Press your hips toward the wall.  Hold for 30 seconds then relax. Repeat 3 times on each side.
Groin stretchGroin Stretch: Stand with your legs apart. Shift your weight to one side, bending your knee somewhat. Do not let your knee bend beyond your ankle. You should feel the stretch in your opposite leg, which remains extended. Both of your feet stay flat on the ground facing forward. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds then relax. Repeat 3 times on each side.
Iliotibial band stretchIliotibial band stretch Cross one leg behind other leg.  Bend at waist reaching toward the floor. Make sure not to twist spine when bending over. It should not feel uncomfortable or painful.  Hold this stretch for 30 seconds then relax. Repeat this stretch 3 times on each side.
Thigh StretchThigh Stretch: Hold on to something for balance. Standing on one leg, grasp the foot of the other leg. Keep your knee pointing down. Pull up with light pressure. You should feel the stretch in the front of the thigh.  Do not arch your back. You do NOT need to pull up all the way to your buttocks. If it feels uncomfortable or painful, you are putting too much strain on the knee joint.

Hold your foot in this position, behind you for 30 seconds, then relax.  Repeat this stretch 3 times for each side. 
Hamstring stretch: There are several ways to stretch the hamstrings, choose the technique that is the most comfortable for you:   Note: Do not do either of these 2 exercise if they cause pain, if you have pain radiating down the leg, or have a diagnosis of bulging disc or herniated disc.  Tension on the hamstring can increase tension on the nerve and further aggravate the symptoms. 
Sitting hamstring stretch1) Sitting Hamstring Stretch (See caution above) With one leg straight, tuck the other foot near the groin.  Reach down leg that is straightened until a stretch is felt in the back of the thigh.  Keep back straight and bend at the hips.  Hold this stretch for 30 seconds then relax.  Repeat 3 times on each side. Supine hamstring stretch2) Supine Hamstring stretch (See caution above) Supporting thigh behind knee, slowly straighten knee until stretch is felt in back of thigh.  Hold this stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times on each side.
Knee-to-chest stretchKnee-to-Chest:   This stretches the low back and hips. Lie on the floor. Lift one knee to your chest. Place your hands behind the lifted knee and pull it toward you.  Keep the opposite leg straight and on the floor.  Hold for 30 seconds then relax.  Repeat 3 times for each leg. Piriformis Stretch: Lie flat on back.  Illustration of piriformis stretch
Pull one knee toward opposite shoulder.  Hold for 30 seconds then relax.  Repeat 3 times for each leg.
Triceps StretchTriceps stretch: Raise your arm over your head and bend your elbow all the way so your hand is behind your neck. Use your other arm to stabilize your elbow.  You should feel this stretch in the back of your arm. Illustration of pectoral stretchPectoral Stretch: (Caution--Do not try this if you have significant shoulder instability) Stand in an open doorway or in a corner with hands just above shoulder level.  Lean forward until a comfortable stretch is felt across chest. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 3 times.
Related links:
--Written by N Thompson, RN, MSN, ARNP in collaboration with R Timmons, MD, M Thompson, MD, and Foundation Physical Therapy with offices in Largo and Clearwater, Florida. Call (727) 784-6088; Last updated July 2011

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