Welcome to Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging! The National Institute on Aging is part of the National Institutes of Health, and the goal of our research is to improve the health and well-being of older adults.
In 1998, we wrote Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging. Since then, scientists have learned more about the benefits of exercise for older people and the things that motivate people to become more active. So, we decided the guide needed an update.
Like most people, you’ve probably heard that physical activity, including exercise, is good for you. If you’re already active, keep up the good work. It may even be time to push yourself a little harder, try a new activity, or find new ways to add exercise to your daily life.
If you stopped exercising for some reason, let us help you get started again and keep going. If you don’t exercise now, congratulate yourself on picking up this book and looking through it! We hope it helps you get started.
Why Is Physical Activity Such a Big Deal?
Regular exercise and physical activity are important to the physical and mental health of almost everyone, including older adults. Being physically active can help you continue to do the things you enjoy and stay independent as you age. Regular physical activity over long periods of time can produce long-term health benefits. That’s why health experts say that older adults should be active every day to maintain their health.
In addition, regular exercise and physical activity can reduce the risk of developing some diseases and disabilities that develop as people grow older. In some cases, exercise is an effective treatment for many chronic conditions. For example, studies show that people with arthritis, heart disease, or diabetes benefit from regular exercise. Exercise also helps people with high blood pressure, balance problems, or difficulty walking.
One of the great things about physical activity is that there are so many ways to be active. For example, you can be active in short spurts throughout the day, or you can set aside specific times of the day on specific days of the week to exercise. Many physical activities — such as brisk walking, raking leaves, or taking the stairs whenever you can — are free or low cost and do not require special equipment. You could also check out an exercise video from the library or use the fitness center at a local senior center.
This guide shows you many types of exercise and physical activity. It also has lots of tips to help you be active in ways that suit your lifestyle, interests, health, and budget, whether you’re just starting out, getting back to exercising after a break, or fit enough to run a 3-mile race. It’s for everyone — people who are healthy and those who live with an ongoing health problem or disability.
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For many people, “real life”— things like illness, traveling, or an unexpected event — can get in the way of being active.
What’s the Difference Between Physical Activity and Exercise?
Both terms refer to the voluntary movements you do that burn calories. Physical activities are activities that get your body moving such as gardening, walking the dog, raking leaves, and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Exercise is a form of physical activity that is specifically planned, structured, and repetitive such as weight training, tai chi, or an aerobics class.
Physical activity and exercise are both important and can help improve your ability to do the everyday activities you enjoy.
The bottom line? There are many ways to be active every day. Find something you enjoy doing, include it in your regular routine, and try to increase your level of activity over time.
Being active and exercising regularly can change your life. See how Greta has benefited from regular exercise:“At age 67, I’m in the best physical condition of my life. Two years ago, I joined a low-impact aerobics class at a nearby senior center. The entire routine is done to music, planned and led by an instructor. My balance has improved greatly, and my osteoporosis has remained stable.”
Using This Book
This guide can help you take charge of an important part of your health. You may want to read through the entire book first to learn about the benefits of exercise and physical activity, and to find out how to get started, reduce your risks, and reward your progress. Then, keep it handy so you can refer to the sample exercises and use some of the charts at the back of the book to record your activities. From time to time, you may need to check the tips for getting back on track if there’s a break in your routine or the tips for healthy eating. Throughout the guide, you’ll find personal stories that we hope will inspire you to be more active every day.
Chapter 1: Get Ready talks about the “why” of exercise and physical activity. It tells you the benefits of being active and describes the different types of exercise.
Chapter 2: Get Set guides you on getting organized and reviewing your current activity levels, setting short- and long-term goals, and creating a realistic plan for becoming active over time.
Chapter 3: Go! is all about the “how.” The guide offers tips to help you get started. It also has ideas to help you stick with your decision to be active every day and to get you back on track if you have to stop exercising for some reason.
Chapter 4: Sample Exercises gives you some specific activities and exercises, including exercises to increase your strength, improve balance, become more flexible, and increase endurance. All of the exercises have easy directions to help you do them safely.
Chapter 5: How Am I Doing? offers you some ways to test your progress and reward your success.
Chapter 6: Healthy Eating briefly discusses another key to good health — nutritious eating habits.
Chapter 7: Keep Going includes worksheets to keep track of your progress and answers to frequently asked questions about exercise and physical activity for older adults. You’ll also find a list of resources for more information. Some of the resources are especially for people with specific health problems or disabilities who want to be active. In addition, there’s a form you can fill out and send us after you’ve been active for at least a month. We’ll send you a certificate from the National Institute on Aging to recognize your commitment to improve your health.