Fitness is key to healthy aging

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Senior fitness class at Martin Pear JCC
Senior fitness class at Martin Pear JCC (Photos courtesy of Martin Pear JCC)

By Jonell Mertens

As the saying goes, “Aging isn’t for the faint of heart,” but what can we do to make sure that our heart, and the rest of our body, stays strong? The list of fitness options is endless. The key is to find what you enjoy and keep moving.


So where do you begin? If you aren’t a regular exerciser, a trip to your doctor is always the first step. Knowing if you have a current health concern or injury can be vitally important in planning your exercise goals.

If you are a regular exerciser, start by setting small goals. If you always walk 1.5 miles outside, try increasing the distance to 2 miles. Your next goal can be to do the same distance, but at a faster pace. Set similar goals for cardio machines like the elliptical or treadmill. In the end, all of those small changes will result in a stronger heart and healthier body. No matter your age, your body will respond to a progressive plan of action and you will see improvements that will make your daily activities easier.

If you require more motivation, a certified personal trainer may be for you. A CPT is a great option to assist you with balance and strength.

Fitness classes are also a great option and are often included in a gym membership. Check to see if your gym has classes that would be a fit for you. Senior Fit, Yoga 101, Water Aerobics, Aging Backwards and Zumba Gold are a few of the titles that describe active adult classes. Group fitness classes that aren’t specifically for seniors are also an option. Instructors are trained to offer safe options for everyone, no matter their age or fitness level. If you aren’t sure, ask to observe a class before you join.

Due to COVID-19, many senior classes were paused and converted to online options for safety.

Gyms are often a social setting, and that is a huge incentive to get you in the door and coming back. It’s the perfect time to join your friends and encourage each other. The social aspect of working out — walking with friends, lifting weights together at the gym or playing pickleball with a group — is often the main reason people will stick with an exercise routine. This reflects my earlier point of finding what you enjoy to keep yourself moving.

For those of you exercising at home, you can purchase a set or two of hand weights from an online retailer like Amazon. Start with a set of light weights and add a few pounds as you set higher goals. A yoga mat is great for stretching and provides a non-slip surface. Sitting in an armless chair provides a secure position for exercising on your own. Circle bands and handle bands offer extensive exercise possibilities for the upper and lower body.

Senior fitness class at Martin Pear JCC
Senior fitness class at Martin Pear JCC (Photos courtesy of Martin Pear JCC)

If you aren’t able to get on and off the floor without help, you may need to stay in a chair for safety. Many senior fitness classes are chair based, yet incredibly challenging. If you are planning to work out at home, make sure that there are no loose rugs to slip on and wear your tennis shoes. Your space should be large enough to move and groove without obstruction.

If you’ve fallen or are worried about falling, doing exercises to improve your strength, balance and flexibility will help make you stronger and feel more confident on your feet.

For additional guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults aged 65 and older should do the following:

Aim to be physically active every day — any activity is better than none.

Do activities that improve strength, balance and flexibility at least two days a week.

Do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity. If you are already active, you should combine both.

Reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity.

When you think of exercise as a prescription for your health, it becomes a daily pill you take. But to hit your fitness goals, find what you love so you will stick with it and keep moving. Aging doesn’t have to be for the faint of heart.

For complete CDC exercise recommendations, visit cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/older_adults.

Jonell Mertens is a NASM-CPT, AFAA-certified instructor and Parkinson’s coordinator for Martin Pear JCC in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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