In Your Free Time

How-To: Stay in Shape as You Get Older

Maybe softball and basketball are out of the question, but there are ways to exercise while balancing the rest of your life. 

by Julie Halpert - October 01, 2018

Sometimes, small steps can lead to something bigger and give you a chance to achieve your goals.

Katie Walton a program manager at EXOS Corporate Fitness Center, located in the Wells Fargo Advisors headquarters building in St. Louis, recalls a 62-year-old client who had never previously exercised due to time constraints but who wanted to get and stay in shape so that he could keep up with his triplet grandchildren. He began personal training with a fitness program manager, starting out using a treadmill and stationary bike, and ramped up to exercising three to five times a week.

Within seven weeks he had shed 25 pounds, no longer needed medication to control his blood pressure, and was able to easily lift his grandchildren. In an email, he thanked his program manager for the role she had in motivating him. “His overall quality of life improved,” Walton says.

These types of benefits are typical for older Americans who exercise. As work and family commitments take priority, exercise often gets put on the back burner. But Walton says there are numerous reasons middle-aged and older adults should regularly commit to a routine to get moving so they can get and stay in shape, and there are simple ways you can make a plan that works for you.

Find time to move

As you age, the risk of injury and chronic disease naturally increase. Exercise reduces that risk, explains Walton. She adds that exercise also increases bone and muscle strength, decreasing the likelihood of falls while also allowing people to recover faster if they do fall or suffer an injury.

It’s possible to incorporate movement into the lives of even the busiest people to help them stay in shape.

“You don’t need to do your workout in one chunk,” says Walton. She suggests rising 10 minutes early for some stretching; taking a brisk 10-minute walk during lunch; and doing some pushups, sit-ups, crunches, and squats after work. If you don’t have time for the gym, you can fit these moves in during commercials while watching television.

It’s possible to incorporate movement into the lives of even the busiest people to help them stay in shape.

“This concept is effective,” she says, and “if you get into the habit, it will be easily built into your routine.”

Walton also says it’s easy to find ways to stand and move during the workday as part of your plan to stay in shape. If your company offers an on-site gym or you have access to one nearby, Walton says a midday workout allows the chance for a change of scenery, rejuvenation, and stress release.

No time for a full workout, or have a lunch-hour meeting scheduled? Stand during conference calls or choose the stairs instead of the elevator. “That really adds up” and has a positive impact on heart rate and circulation, allowing energy to go back into your brain, Walton says. Another easy component—stretching—doesn’t even require you to leave your desk.

Stay in shape with moderate exercise

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise. Walton says walking is helpful, while cycling builds lower-body strength. Using an elliptical or rowing machine for 30 to 60 minutes, two to three times a week, provides a sufficient cardiovascular workout. In addition, it’s ideal to get 20 to 60 minutes of strength training—anything involving resistance, such as lifting weights—and flexibility exercises like yoga or stretching, Walton says.

If you’re getting back into exercise or have never done it, Walton says it’s best to stay away from motions involving higher impact, such as jumping, because that can be hard on your joints. Those who have already been engaging in vigorous exercise, including marathons, can continue to do so, but Walton says it’s important to cross-train—work different muscles on different days, and use a stretching and flexibility component, as repetitive motions take a toll on your body.

Whatever method you choose, try to stay motivated. The more you develop a routine, the longer you’ll stick with it and the easier it will be to find the time to accomplish your goal every day. Walton says you may be more motivated to stick with exercise and stay in shape if you’re investing your money into regular sessions with a trainer. She says whatever your methods, the goal should be to design an exercise regimen that works for you, “so you end up enjoying and looking forward to it, instead of constantly dreading it.”

Julie Halpert is a Michigan-based freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, Newsweek, Family Circle, and MORE magazine.

Image by iStock

Additional Resources

It’s important to exercise your mind, too. Here are six ways to stay mentally sharp as you age.