You're reading this blog, so you've taken your first step to improving your health through exercise. Congratulations! Now, of course, you're not going to stop here (are you?). If you work out but feel it's not working for you, maybe there's some tinkering you need to do with your exercise routine. I've found that many people simply don't know some of the finer points of making their exercise work for them. For others, it's not a matter of knowing what works, it's a matter of realizing that they'll need to adapt their exercise to the fact that their bodies are getting a little older.
You'll be glad to know that most of these exercise tips are extremely easy to follow and you'll readily be able to incorporate them into your routine. We'll start out slow, though, which is of course how you'll want to start your own exercise sessions:
1. Check out your sneaks.
Whether you'll be pounding the pavement or the treadmill, you need to start with the basic step of making sure you have sneakers that will help you step. Most people don't replace their sneakers often enough (every 3 months for frequent use), or don't get the right ones in the first place. This can get expensive, but the amount you save later in physician's bills or rehab will more than pay off. The best sneakers are suited to the task, meaning that you use cross-trainers for most gym workouts and running shoes for the road or treadmill. They have to fit you properly and accommodate nicely cushioned socks. If you want, you can add an insert to the sole or replace the factory sole with a special padded one, but in either case, the shoe needs to fit with the socks you plan to wear. Prefer to run barefoot? Not a good idea. Any data about barefoot running tends not to take age into account, much less the hazards that might await you in the road.
2. Build in time for warm-ups (and cool-downs).
As people get older, their bodies don't start up or wind down quite as easily. The main reason for this is that the various bodily systems take a little longer to "boot up." A minimum 5-minute warm up will start to get blood flowing to your muscles, and will also help to relax, somewhat, the tendons. At the end of your workout, your muscles are warmer and everything else is a little looser, and will therefore stretch more easily. That stretching will increase your flexibility, which is an important goal of exercise in the post-50 years and beyond. In fact, it's safe to say that flexibility is as important, if not more so, than strength. As we age, the joints get stiffer and a bit more painful to move. The added flexibility benefit of stretching will improve the efficiency of your joints and relieve the stress you place on them. You'll also be less likely to injure yourself.
3. Don't turn up the volume.
If you need TV, music or audiobooks to entertain you while you exercise, make sure you keep the volume at a moderate level. The direct input of sound into your ears increases the risks of damage to the tiny, delicate, hair cells that are responsible for registering sound. You'll negate the good of exercise with the bad of hearing loss if you don't protect your ears from this source of damage.
4. Stick to a regular schedule.
It's easy to say that you're too busy to find that block of 30, 45, or 60 minutes with all the pressures you have on your time. Therefore, you have to pretend that your workout is just as immutable as anything you have on your office or home schedule. Once you make it a regular part of your day and week, you'll start eventually to feel like something's missing if you're not working out. Exercise is one habit that you want to make at least slightly addictive.
5. Build in rewards for your workouts.
Even the most disciplined, or addicted, exerciser needs to have something to look forward to that will keep the behavior going. There's that great feeling you'll get about 20 minutes into the workout when your endorphins kick in, but apart from that, using some motivational psychology will help you maintain your habits. Find a favorite TV show, piece of music, or audiobook that you save specifically for your workout (keeping the volume turned down, of course). Alternatively, plan to do something enjoyable right after your workout so that the exercise becomes associated with this enjoyable activity. The only thing you want to be careful about is that the enjoyable activity doesn't create its own problems. For whatever reason, research shows consistently that people who exercise a lot also tend to drink more. Find a rewarding, pleasurable activity that doesn't place you at risk for some other health problem or you'll be defeating your own purpose. Of course, just having fun while you work out can be rewarding as well. If you're a social person who likes to spend time after the workout talking to your gym buddies, this is a perfect way to mix the social with the physical benefits of exercise.
6. Mix up your exercise regimes. A consistent exercise time should be part of your day or week, but not a consistent set of exercises. If you lift the same weights every day in the same sequence, or run the same route or pace on the treadmill, your body will readily adapt to the demands and start to go into automatic gear. Interval training, in which you mix high and low intensities, is great for creating little shock wave patterns for your body. However, even these can get routine. Mix up different interval routines, alternate weight-lifting with aerobics, and occasionally do something completely different like yoga or dance.
7. Don't skimp on the time.
You might be one of those people who selectively finds news stories touting the benefits of the mini-workout. Don't believe it! You need a minimum of 20 minutes of intense or moderately intense exercise, whether it's aerobics, weight lifting, swimming, or yoga, or walking. 30 minutes will guarantee you enough time for the workout and several minutes of stretching and cooling down at either end. If you literally can't spare the time, then build your workout schedule so that you spend more time at each session on fewer days during the week.
8. Play nice.
There are certain etiquette rules that you need to follow, if not to improve your workout, then to improve the general climate in your gym, neighborhood, or home. At the gym, don't leave a mess in the locker room, run around in a state of unclothing or clothing that will embarrass others, interrupt other people's workouts, play your music too loud (which you shouldn't do anyhow), or hold people up with small talk if they're clearly in a hurry to get on with their workout or go home. If you're taking classes, don't come in late or leave unduly early, keep within your spot, share equipment if necessary, and keep your own smells under control (including fragrances). In your neighborhood, stick to the side of the road or sidewalk, don't go through other people's lawns or gardens, and don't go too near pedestrians whether you're running or biking. Finally, at home, be considerate of the rest of your family or your roommates and keep your music or TV down (again!), wash your own sweaty towels or workout clothes, and try to keep your equipment out from underfoot.
To sum up, exercise is a wonderful way to keep your body in top shape, as long as you follow these very simple tips. Though all of us complain about exercise from time to time, there's no substitute for it, if you want to stay mentally and physically fit in your 50s, and beyond.