Exercise is the most important thing you can do to slow the effects of aging and maintain your health and vigor late in life. There are four main types of exercise, and seniors need some of each:
Aerobic exercise: Uses the large muscle groups in a continuous, sustained activity that raises your heart rate to 60-80% of its maximum for at least 20 minutes. Examples include jogging, brisk walking, swimming, treadmills, and bicycling. Its benefits include cardiovascular strength, stamina, and burning body fat. Start slowly to warm up.
Strengthening or resistance training: Short bursts of muscle exertion followed by periods of rest. Examples include weight-lifting, resistance machines, and calisthenics that involve resistance, such as crunches, push-ups, and leg-lifts. Benefits include that it increases muscular strength and stamina, reduces age-related bone loss and risk of osteoporosis, and retains muscle mass longer, which helps you look your best and burn more calories 24 hours a day.
Stretching: Aging muscles are less flexible. Stretching helps to relax muscle tension and promote flexibility, reduces stress on muscles and joints, helping to prevent or slow arthritis; helps maintain range of motion, and reduces risk of injury. A 10-20 minute stretch soon after you get out of bed can help reduce stiffness all day, especially in the lower back and neck.
Balance exercises: These aim to strengthen leg muscles and improve sense of balance. This helps to prevent falls.
Diet is a second critical factor in healthy aging. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture significantly revised its Food Pyramid. It still emphasizes eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; a moderate amount of lean meat, beans, and low-fat dairy products; and limiting saturated fats, trans fats, and sugars. The most obvious change is that there is no longer one pyramid for everybody. Your pyramid is now customized based on your age, sex, and activity level. To learn more about healthy nutrition, go to www.mypyramid.gov and enter your age, sex, and activity level, and get your personalized pyramid; also be sure to read the Dietary Guidelines section. Some of the differences for seniors include the increased importance of low-fat dairy products to provide calcium and vitamin D for bone strength; and you need fewer calories as you get older, so portion sizes are smaller.