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Fitness: The Foundation of Independence as You Age


Whatever your age, activity is key to staying physically fit and emotionally balanced. Especially as you age, regular exercise is essential for maintaining and improving your stamina, strength, flexibility, balance, mood, and independence.

Research shows that regular exercise, good nutrition, and maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent or delay diabetes and heart disease.1 It also can help reduce arthritis pain, muscle stiffness, and joint stiffness2 as well as anxiety and depression.

The good news is that it’s never too late to return to or begin exercising for the first time. And you can exercise even if you are overweight or obese, or if you have allergies, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, lower back pain, respiratory disease, or osteoporosis.

Follow these steps if you're an adult just starting, returning to, or increasing exercise:

  • Get a checkup with your doctor
    Even if you have yearly checkups with your doctor, it’s still important to see him or her before returning to or starting exercise for the first time. You also should see your doctor if you exercise regularly and want to increase the duration and intensity of your routine. Tell your doctor if you have or have ever had chest pain, pain that radiates down your arm, neck pain, shortness of breath, a heart condition, bone or joint problems, high blood pressure, breathing problems, unexplained dizziness, fainting, and falls
  • Meet with a personal trainer
    Even a few sessions with a personal trainer can be helpful at any fitness level to identify your needs, establish reasonable, safe goals, and devise a plan to ensure you reach them 
  • Schedule your exercise
    Make exercise as essential and routine as bathing, brushing your teeth, eating, and sleeping. Exercising at the same time each day can make it easier to stick with your routine
  • Keep a workout diary
    In addition to helping prevent you from missing workouts, keeping and referring to a daily log of your workouts can highlight your progress over the weeks and months and help you focus on your goals
  • Choose activities you enjoy
    Engaging in activities you enjoy, can reasonably manage, and can quickly master will make it easier for you to stay motivated, especially if you’re a novice exerciser or if you’re out of shape

Which exercise is best?

Data show that varying the type of exercise you do (or cross training) is best for boosting your metabolism and maintaining overall strength and balance. For these reasons, it's best to choose several activities you enjoy so that you can alternate them during the week. For example, if you walk briskly at the first workout of the week, then alternate between swimming and cycling for the next 2 workouts. Mixing in a dance, karate, or fencing class and getting in a hike once a week can maximize effects of cross training and help keep your fitness routine fun and interesting. You also should include strength training, stretching, and balance exercises in your weekly fitness plan.

Cardiovascular Exercise

Endurance (or cardiovascular) workouts increase your heart rate and make you breathe harder.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adults should participate in a minimum of 150 minutes and up to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity in 10-minute or longer segments each week. WHO recommends that people age 65 years and older with poor mobility engage in physical activity 3 or more days a week to enhance balance and prevent falls. People with health conditions who cannot perform the recommended amounts of physical activity should be as physically active as their conditions allow.

Cardio workouts can include:

  • Brisk walking on a flat surface, incline, or stairs
  • Cycling
  • Dancing
  • Fencing
  • Hiking
  • Ice skating
  • Jogging or running
  • Karate
  • Kayaking, rowing, canoeing
  • Pilates
  • Rollerblading
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Tai chi
  • Volleyball
  • Water aerobics
  • Zumba

If you have arthritis or other joint problems, choose low-impact exercise such as walking, swimming, cycling, water aerobics, and tai chi.

Strength Training

Strength-training exercises are ideal for building muscles, increasing bone density, strengthening tendons and ligaments, improving joint function, boosting metabolism, improving heart function, and raising good (high-density lipoprotein [HDL]) cholesterol levels. Although strength training is primarily an anaerobic activity, it can provide benefits of aerobic exercise when it is implemented in circuit training.

Strength training exercises can involve body weight (pullups, pushups, gymnastics), weight and other exercise machines, resistance bands, gymnastics apparatus, Swiss medicine balls, wobble boards, Indian clubs, pneumatic exercise equipment, and hydraulic exercise equipment that cause muscles to contract when engaging the weight or resistance.

If you are new to strength training, it's best to meet with a certified personal trainer who can ensure that you understand how to use weights and resistance-training equipment safely and effectively. He or she also will recommend the amount of weight you should lift and the number of times you should repeat an exercise. WHO recommends that adults get 2 or more strength training workouts each week, with a rest day between workouts for specific muscle groups.4

Although many people experience some muscle soreness a day or 2 after a strength-training workout, the exercises should not be painful.  

Examples of strength training:

  • Weight lifting
  • Circuit training
  • Isometric exercise
  • Gymnastics
  • Plyometrics
  • Parkour
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • CrossFit
  • Super Slow Weight Training


Stretching exercises can help you stay flexible, making it easier to bend over, reach things, and protect your quality of life. A personal trainer can teach you types of stretches and how to perform them safely. Stretching should never be painful.

For good results, stretch gently a minimum of 2 to 5 times each week. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds and repeat it 2 or 3 times.

Balance Exercises

Practicing a few balance exercises each day goes a long way toward helping prevent falls.


For more information about exercise and fitness plans
to improve and protect your health,
call Summit Medical Group Physical Therapy 
at 908-277-8936.

Our physical therapists can create a fitness plan
tailored to your unique needs!




1. Diabetes Prevention Group. 10-year follow up of diabetes incidence and weight loss in the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study. Lancet. 2009;374:1677-1686.
2. Feinglass J, Thompson J, Xiaoxing A, Witt W, Chang R, Baker D. Effecto of physical activity on functional status among older middle-age adults with arthritis. Arth Rheum. 2005;53(6):879-885.
3. Diehl J, Choi H. Exercise: the data on its role in health, mental health, disease prevention, and productivity. Prim Care Clin Office Prac. 2008;35:803-816.
4. World Health Organization. Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health. Global recommendations on physical activity for health. Accessed March 7, 2013.