How to Stay Fit Into the Golden Years

Updated on July 19, 2017
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Catherine believes that core strength and positive energy flow are keys to good health and longevity. She practices tai chi and pilates.

Tai Chi teaches balance, reduces stress, and helps to prevent falls.
Tai Chi teaches balance, reduces stress, and helps to prevent falls.

Our bodies perform for us in amazing ways, most of which we take for granted. It isn't until we hit a serious bump in the road that we realize just how important it is to keep in shape! After limping for nearly five years with an unequal leg length from an unsuccessful hip replacement, I have successfully bounced back from revision surgery- my third hip procedure in seven years. Thankfully, Pilates training helped me rapidly recover.

Aches and pains which limit full range of motion can lead to muscle atrophy. Daily jogs, ski vacations, and even everyday chores will one day be reminders that youth is slipping away. Muscles may begin to complain after a strenuous workout or a long day in the garden, and we will reach for the pain relievers, put our feet up, and forget about it. Eventually though, bouncing back will be more of a challenge.

Our hands often get stiff from repetitive motions on the job, and normal joint wear and tear can bring about bursitis, tendonitis, and damaged ligaments. Pain further limits movement, locks joints, and damages connective tissue. A sedentary lifestyle wastes muscles, and poor eating habits cause our stomachs to bulge and sag leading to back weakness. A lack of deep sleep, which frequently accompanies stress and aging, affects our muscles' ability to recover after a day's work.

Many of us will develop osteoarthritis. The rubbery cartilage that cushions our joints begins to wear thin. We also lose the lubrication of synovial fluids. As bone rubs against bone, our bodies in defense produce thickened growths called osteophytes. These "bone spurs" cause sharp pain with movement and soon have us heading for the doctor's office. Regardless of condition, there is still a practical approach to wellness and keeping fit.

A nutritious diet promotes good cellular structure, healthy weight, and increased energy.
A nutritious diet promotes good cellular structure, healthy weight, and increased energy.

Eat Sensibly

Eating for better health is a good start. Consuming smaller portions throughout the day instead of 3 large meals works better for sustained energy. Starting the day with a good breakfast has been shown to help the metabolism work at peak performance and reduce weight gain. Drinking ample water and green tea helps the lymphatic system flush out the toxins which accumulate in our joints and tissues. Reducing processed foods is one of the best things to do since they typically contain high amounts of sodium and sugar. Foods in the solanum family such as potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant may worsen leg cramps and nocturnal joint pain. Eating them in moderation might help. Recommendations for the average diet is 2000 calories per day, and this includes a good balance of protein and carbohydrates with both soluble and insoluble fiber and antioxidants. When consuming alcohol, consider those calories in the daily count. Are they worth it? Sensible eating over time will result in practical weight-loss, healthy blood pressure, and more vigor.

Warm Up When Waking Up

Stay Flexible

Regular stretching helps to increase flexibility and prevent injury by improving blood flow to muscles. Exercises can be done in a chair or from the side of a bed if necessary. There is truth in the adage "use it or lose it." It is crucial to keep muscles flexible and strong. Even short-term confinement to a bed or wheelchair following surgery or injury can lead to some muscle atrophy. Instead of jumping out of bed in the morning, try easing into it with a wonderful all-over body stretch.

Taking five minute exercise breaks in the workplace and doing hand, arm, and shoulder stretches while sitting in rush hour traffic are good ways to improve circulation, relieve stiffness, and renew energy. A regimen of simple exercise throughout the day is easy to make a life-long habit.

Laughter and companionship are keys to well-being and longevity.
Laughter and companionship are keys to well-being and longevity.

Keep the Mind and Body Active

Moderate fitness can easily fit into the daily routine. Activities like gardening, walking the dog, taking stairs instead of the elevator, and general household chores help keep our bodies in decent shape. Getting out in the fresh air and sunshine is good for mental well-being, lung function, and the absorption of vitamin D. Staying active, both in mind and body, helps to promote longevity and ward off depression.

Postponing retirement, working part-time, or volunteering in the community are things to consider. They keep the mind sharp, give us purpose and confidence, teach new skills, and encourage interaction with others. A component to a long and vibrant life is friendship. Having people to share our thoughts and experiences gives us something to look forward to. Getting together often to play cards, Scrabble, Mah Jong, and other strategy games is a win-win. Our friends give us validation and support. We share our highs and lows and recount memories. Laughter is good medicine. We are apt to get out and enjoy a healthier life with a companion and to be less focused on our own negative thoughts.

Gardening is a great way to maintain flexibility and strength while getting fresh air.
Gardening is a great way to maintain flexibility and strength while getting fresh air.

Consider Reasonable Fitness Options

Good recommendations for those who enjoy staying active but want exercises with less impact are Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Pilates, pool aerobics, and Yoga. They go a long way in improving flexibility, strength, coordination, alignment, and balance. A collapsible cane or walking stick take the fear away from falling and give more stamina on outings. Maintaining a strong core takes the stress off of backs, hips, and knees. Good balance helps to prevent falls and contributes to a more even gait. Since water makes us buoyant. pool exercise is by far the best program for those with osteo-arthritis and other limiting conditions who have difficulty bearing weight. The pool offers both excellent cardio and flexibility workouts and is recommended as a good start for physical therapy.

There are many low-cost community options available to seniors, the disabled, and others on fixed incomes. Many medicare plans include Silver Sneakers programs. Check with your local YMCA and community senior centers. The social interaction is an added health bonus. There are workouts for all levels of ability including those with severe spinal injury and nerve damage. Exercise is an integral part of wellness from both a physical and mental standpoint.

Manage Wellness

If a stiff hip or knee interferes with everyday enjoyment, a cane or hiking stick will help with stability and allow for longer walks w/ reduced pain. Daily supplements of glucosamine, MSM, magnesium, and calcium work to preserve joints and bones. After exercise and before sleep, self-help methods for pain relief include Arnica cream, ice packs, OTC anti- inflammatory meds, and topical menthols/ capsaicin base muscle rubs. When used after strenuous activity or injury, they go far in preventing pain and crippling flare-ups. Of course, symptoms which don't respond to self-help should be addressed by a medical specialist.

Periodic chiropractic adjustments, acupressure, and light massage are also excellent ways to insure proper alignment, improved blood flow, and good nerve function. Most importantly these tips should help alleviate pain and promote better restful sleep.

An active lifestyle equates with better sleep as does an active sex life. The release of endorphins and dopamine naturally relieve pain and bring much needed pleasure in our harried world. Sexual intimacy, like other exercise, can be adapted for physical limitations rather than eliminated. It is another key to overall well-being and longevity.

Aiming for 7-8 hours per night is a good practice. Aids for relaxation are herbal teas like Celestial Seasonings SleepyTime or chamomile and a hot bath or shower before bed. Devotional prayer, aromatherapy, reading, meditation, and journaling are all good ways to calm the mind and reduce stress before falling asleep.

Good health is one of our greatest assets, and taking the proper steps to insure the wellness of our bodies is a no-nonsense investment.

A calming cup of herbal tea before bed promotes good sleep.
A calming cup of herbal tea before bed promotes good sleep.

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Catherine Tally


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      • cat on a soapbox profile image

        Catherine Tally 3 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hi peachy.

        Thank you! You 're right about that. The benefit is there for anyone as long as one starts out slowly.

        All the best!


      • peachpurple profile image

        peachy 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

        true, you can exercise at any age, any time, good for health

      • cat on a soapbox profile image

        Catherine Tally 4 years ago from Los Angeles

        Hi Audrey,

        You're welcome! Thank YOU for being the first to comment. I am happy to hear that you do yoga. It's amazing how it keeps one so fit while fine- tuning the very important mind/body connection. Take care!


      • AudreyHowitt profile image

        Audrey Howitt 4 years ago from California

        I love yoga--and it helps me feel centered and relaxed and keeps my joints feeling generally well--Thank you for this hub!