You are ready to start an exercise program; great! Now the next logical question is, “What do I do?” Before you make any final decisions about exactly what to do, it is good to start with a general understanding of what is included in a comprehensive exercise program. Once you understand the components, then you will be in the best possible position to make choices that suit your needs and goals.
Exercises generally fall into four main categories: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Although we describe them separately, some activities fit into several categories. For example, many endurance activities also help build strength, and strength exercises can help improve balance.
Endurance, or aerobic, activities increase your breathing and heart rate. These activities help keep you healthy, improve your fitness, and help you do the tasks you need to do every day. Endurance exercises improve the health of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system. They also delay or prevent many diseases that are common in older adults such as diabetes, colon and breast cancers, heart disease, and others. Some examples of physical activities that build endurance include:
- Brisk walking
- Yard work (mowing, raking)
- Climbing stairs or hills
- Playing tennis
- Playing basketball
The key with endurance exercise is significantly increasing one’s heart rate and breathing. A general guide to use is: For moderate activities, you can talk, but you can’t sing. With vigorous activities, you can only say a few words without stopping to catch your breath. It is important that you consult with a professional to determine your ideal training heart rate before you begin any type of endurance exercise. We will have a more detailed discussion about heart rate in Chapter 8.
Even small increases in muscle strength can make a big difference in your body tone and your ability to easily carry out everyday activities. People who maintain strength have an easier time getting in and out of cars, climbing stairs, carrying kids or groceries, or even playing their favorite sport at a high level. Improving muscle strength is accomplished by performing “strength training” or “resistance training” exercises. Regardless of what you call it, strength exercises include such things as:
- Using exercise machines that are weight bearing
- Using free weights or kettlebells
- Using resistance bands
- Doing plyometric (body weight) exercises
Balance is one of the least discussed components of a complete fitness program. As youths, we are often unaware of how important balance is to our everyday activities. Going up and down stairs, stepping off a curb, standing up or turning around quickly; all of these movements require good balance. Balance is very much linked to strength – i.e. if your legs aren’t strong you will have more difficulty going up and down stairs or getting out of a chair quickly. Unfortunately, balance is one of those components that we often don’t pay attention to until we have lost it! This is precisely why incorporating balance into your exercise program now is worthwhile. Of course, for older adults balance is critical to helping prevent falls. Exercises that improve balance include:
- Standing on one foot (with use of a chair or bar for assistance if needed)
- Standing on foam pads
- Bosu ball exercises
- Heel-to-toe walk
- Tai Chi
- Yoga postures
Stretching can help your body stay flexible and limber, which gives you more freedom of movement for your regular physical activity, as well as your everyday activities. Being able to easily and comfortably look over your shoulder as you back-up a car, putting on your socks, or cutting your toe nails, all require some level of flexibility. Maintaining flexibility is an important aspect to good health. To increase your flexibility, try the following:
- Static stretching
- Assisted stretching
Putting it All Together!
A comprehensive exercise program includes all four elements of fitness, endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. Ideally you want to identify exercises that incorporate multiple components and that you enjoy. The more you enjoy exercising the more likely you will participate regularly!
The following table shows calories used in common physical activities at both moderate and vigorous levels.