Caution Key for Seniors Returning to Exercise

Despite reports of a nationwide obesity epidemic, much of the country has made exercise an important part of their daily routines. Though young people are aware of the long-term benefits of exercise, such as reducing the risk of heart disease, seniors can benefit greatly from daily exercise as well.

In fact, many illnesses commonly faced by senior citizens can be combated effectively, though not entirely, if daily exercise is included. Exercise can help reduce the negative side effects of conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis, and even depression, each of which can appear as a person ages.

Unlike beginning an exercise regimen when you're young, however, doing so as a senior involves a little more restriction and an honest appraisal of where you are with respect to fitness. For seniors about to start an exercise routine, a couple of things must be considered to ensure your success and safety.

* Be honest: Diving right back into a heavy exercise routine is dangerous. Instead, be honest with yourself at the start. If you haven't seen the inside of a gym in a long while, take things slowly at first. Make your daily routine short at first, 10 to 15 minutes per day, and take regular breaks. Slowly add to your routine as your body acclimates itself to daily physical activity.

* Be realistic: Choosing an exercise regimen that you won't enjoy is impractical. While this is often something younger people with specific goals in mind can handle, seniors need to be realistic and choose a routine they'll enjoy. You're probably not entertaining the notion of athletic glory like younger people, so you're far less likely to stick to a routine that's not enjoyable.

Once you've chosen your routine, there are certain steps to take that can ensure the routine won't leave you licking your wounds or aching all over.

* Stretch: Even professional athletes who earn their livings being physically active stretch on a daily basis. Stretching should be done before and after each workout. Low-intensity stretches that precede a workout will ready your body for the more strenuous work ahead and will also get your blood flowing.

It's important to stretch after you've worked out as well. Most people end their workouts with some cardiovascular work, be it walking or running on the treadmill or using the exercise bike. Once you've finished the more strenuous portion of your cardiovascular routine, cool down with a 1 or 2 minute walk on the treadmill or a couple of minutes of low intensity cycling on the exercise bike. This allows your heart rate to return to normal. Upon completion of the cardiovascular portion of your workout, do some light stretching to avoid cramping.

* Stay hydrated: Even if your exercise routine isn't strenuous, and for many seniors it's not, that doesn't mean you're not going to sweat. Replenish the fluids your body is going to lose through exercise by drinking water while you exercise. Dehydration is not only bad for your body, it's also uncomfortable, often leading to muscle tightness and possibly stomach pains. Drinking ample amounts of water while you workout should help you avoid these side effects.

* Take it easy: Once back in the swing of things, it's still important for seniors to not go too hard during their workouts. Feelings of nausea, lightheadedness, or dizziness indicate you're going too hard. Again, seniors are at greater risk for injury and ailments than their younger counterparts, so exercise caution whenever exercising.

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