Health Resolutions for the New Year
© Katherine Poehlmann, Ph.D.
January is the time of year when most of us resolve to take better care of ourselves. It usually starts with a plan to exercise away those holiday calories.
Some benefits of exercise are increased energy, better sleep, more stamina, strength and flexibility -- those things that help maintain quality of life and independence. It’s probably reasonable for the under-50 to consider a gym membership, but older adults have to take precautions as they aspire to be physically active. While we all need some form of exercise to keep our bodily systems in good health, here are some suggestions to help 50-plus adults minimize risk of injury.
Check with your doctor before starting a serious exercise program. E.g., high impact aerobics can stress knee and hip joints and erode cartilage, leading to osteoarthritis. Strenuous exercise poses a risk for those with heart conditions, asthma, or pulmonary weakness.
Pick a program you know you will enjoy, else it will soon seem like a chore. Exercise is only effective if you do it regularly.
Be realistic. Choose times, places and exercise buddies that will enhance the pleasure of your workout. If you are a procrastinator, perhaps the discipline of a class is for you. More and more senior fitness courses are offered through our school systems. Some are subsidized so that the tuition is free. If you can’t take a class, examine your average day and see where you can fit in a few short brisk walks for 10-15 minutes. Make those time slots part of your daily routine.
Set specific goals. A short term goal might be “I will take a walk each morning before breakfast”. A long term goal could be some physical task that you’re incapable of performing at the moment, but may be able to do if you were in just a bit better condition, such as walking around the block without huffing and puffing. Seek to increase your effort gradually, and keep a log of your progress.
Make decisions. What are you willing to give up to make time for exercise? It may be bad habits, unproductive relationships, or wasteful activities (e.g., too much TV, video games, solitaire).
Keep moving. Some gentle stretching exercises can be done during TV commercials, while on the phone, or standing in line. Do as much of your own housework and yard work as possible but don’t sit, stand, or kneel for more than an hour at a time.
Drink plenty of water to keep cells hydrated and replace fluids lost during exercise. Avoid so-called “sports drinks”. Read labels and you’ll discover they are laden with sugar and useless chemical additives for flavor/color.
Vary your exercises for balance, strength, stamina, and flexibility to keep the program interesting. Concentrate on the large muscle groups in the legs, chest, and back. Strong muscles around the knee and hip joints keep the bones properly aligned, preserve joint integrity, and lessen the risk of losing one’s balance and falling. Strong back muscles protect the spine and avoid injury.
Know your limitations. Don’t overdo it when starting out, hoping to achieve quick results. You’ll just get sore muscles and be tempted to quit. If it hurts, don’t do it. Find another exercise.
Hit the books. There are lots of books showing easy, gentle exercises ideal for older, disabled, or arthritic people. Some that I recommend:
Anderson, Bob and Jean. Stretching. Shelter Publications, Bolinas, CA, various editions, reprintings.
Arnot, Dr. Bob, M.D. Wear and Tear, Simon & Schuster, NY, 2003.
Ellert, Gwen. The Arthritis Exercise Book. Contemporary Books, 1990.
Glisan, Billy, in association with the Texas Back Institute. 50 Ways to Ease Back Pain. Publications International, 1994.
Johnson, Jim. The Multifidus Back Pain Solution: Simple Exercises That Target the Muscles That Count. New Harbinger Publications, 2002.
Huey, Lynda and Forster, Robert. The Complete Waterpower Workout Book: Programs for Fitness, Injury Prevention, Healing. Random House, 1993.
Pinckney, Callan. Callanetics. Random House, 1990. Also by Pinckney: Callanetics for Your Back and Callanetics Countdown: 30 Days to a Beautiful Body.
Dr. Poehlmann is the author of Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Infection Connection, available at Amazon.com and major bookstores, or click here to order now.