Gone are the days of seniors whiling away retirement by rocking on a porch, knitting, and yelling at kids to get off the lawn. Seniors are more active than ever. The older members of our society work much longer than they used to, and not just because the Social Security retirement age continues to be incrementally raised. People are living longer thanks to advances in medicine and health care, and because more opportunities for exercise are available to more people.
It’s true that anyone can go outside and just walk to get some exercise. But there are some factors that can make that difficult. Are there sidewalks? Walking in the street is not safe. Is the weather comfortable? If it’s too hot, or too cold, it may be more detrimental to be outside for a longer period of time, and to exert the body with a brisk walk. This is especially true for seniors. They need to be more careful in extreme temperatures to ensure they don’t stress themselves too much.
If you’re approaching—or well past—retirement age, you don’t have to give up on exercise or being physically fit. Whether you’ve been exercising regularly your whole life, or you want to start now, there are things you can do to stay healthy, or improve your health.
Get a physical
Even if you’ve been exercising on a regular basis for years, it’s a good idea to get a physical at least once a year, unless your doctor says otherwise. This is especially important if you haven’t been following a regular workout regimen. You need to consult with your doctor to make sure your heart is in good condition before you begin placing any strain on it, even with a daily walk around the block.
As we age, our bodies and organs age too, and activities that were easy before may put more strain on the body now. It’s also a good idea to have your doctor check your joints. Walking, running, lifting weights, all physical activity requires moving the joints, and can put extra strain on them. And if you have arthritis, you need to ensure that increased activity isn’t going to cause more inflammation or pain.
Choose the right activity
Walking is the simplest form of exercise. It’s something our bodies are built to do, and something we do anyway. It’s not as hard on the body as running is, and it doesn’t require any equipment, except a good pair of walking shoes. But before you just step outside and start walking, there are a few things to take into account.
If your neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks, it can be dangerous to walk on the shoulder or in the street. Even in residential areas where speed limits are reduced, people sometimes speed, or get distracted, and this increases the risk for pedestrians. A good option is to walk on a track. If there’s a school in your neighborhood, there may be a track you can use, unless the school has it fenced off and inaccessible. Some gyms have walking tracks around their perimeters, but they may require a membership to use it, and that can be an unwanted or even a prohibitive expense on a retirement income. Many seniors will walk around the local mall. It’s indoors where the climate is controlled, so there’s no worry about extreme weather.
The only problem is, if you live in an area that sees harsh winters, there may come a time each year when it’s not safe to drive. In addition, you may get to a point where because of your eyesight or other health factors, you’re no longer able to drive, so even walking in a safe environment like the mall becomes difficult to impossible. Don’t give up.
One solution is to buy a treadmill for your home. Buying a treadmill is a one-time expense, not an ongoing expense like a gym membership. It will allow you to walk any time of day that works for you, without having to worry about weather, transportation, or reckless drivers. You can even put the treadmill in front of your television and watch your favorite show as you walk.
If, when you talk to your doctor, you find that your joints can’t really handle walking for long periods, or, if you suffer from osteoporosis and your bones are unable to withstand the stress of a long walk, there’s still a good solution. Elliptical trainers offer the same level of exercise as treadmills without the impact on the joints and bones. You can set the machine to a comfortable level of difficulty, and still get a good workout without putting any undue strain on your body. Again, talk to your doctor about what kind of exercise is right for you so you can choose the right elliptical trainer or treadmill.
Drinking enough water is an important facet of staying healthy at any age, but it’s particularly important for seniors. The thirst reflex diminishes with age, so the older we get, the less water we feel like drinking. This puts seniors at elevated risk for dehydration, especially during the warmer months. Some signs of dehydration are headache, dry mouth, lightheadedness, dizziness, or weakness. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your physician.
Regardless of how thirsty you feel, drink the same amount of water every day, or even a little more if you feel the need. Again, it’s important to discuss with your doctor how much is right for you. Also keep in mind that some medications may have diuretic properties, so you may have to drink a little more to make up for the loss of fluid. Most importantly, when you increase your physical activity, it’s important to stay hydrated during your workout.
Try not to think of exercising as a chore. If you are able to walk outside, choose a scenic area like a park, if possible. Enjoy the beauty of the outdoors while you get healthy. If you opt to exercise indoors, schedule your workout when your favorite television show is on, or play one of your favorite movies. Working out is also more fun with a partner, so get one of your neighbors or friends to walk with you. Remember that getting and staying healthy will help you to enjoy life to the fullest.