So … you’ve never exercised before

Let’s get physical

According to the CDC, more than 1 in 4 Americans aged 50 and older get no physical activity beyond their normal daily routine. Now, maybe some of them are normally very active, but I’m guessing the majority are fairly sedentary.

We all know that being physically active is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. Plenty of research shows that it can help prevent or at least delay the onset of several chronic diseases — diabetes, obesity, stroke, heart disease, arthritis, lung disease, bone loss, depression.

In 2018, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion issued the second edition of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Here are some key findings:

  1. Adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. Think brisk walking or dancing. Turn on the music! Adults also need muscle-strengthening activity, like lifting weights or doing push-ups at least twice a week.
  2. We need to sit less and move more. New evidence shows a strong relationship between increased sedentary behavior and increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and all-cause mortality.
  3. New evidence shows that physical activity has some immediate health benefits. It can reduce anxiety and blood pressure and improve quality of sleep and insulin sensitivity.
  4. Consistent physical activity has lots of long-term health benefits. I already mentioned some, but add to the list better cognition, reduced risk of dementia, and added protection against several types of cancer.

Person on couch eating popcorn and holding remote, no exercise

Excuses, excuses

So, we know about all the good physical activity can do, and yet to actually get up off the couch and start moving is not easy. We’ve got a million excuses.

  • Too tired
  • No time
  • Can’t afford to join a gym
  • I have no one to exercise with
  • I don’t have the right clothes or shoes
  • It’s so boring
  • I’m too old
  • I need to lose weight first
  • I’m so uncoordinated
  • I’m not an athlete
  • I hate sweating
  • I’m embarrassed to have people see me exercising
  • I don’t know what to do
  • I have bad knees, hips, feet, back …
  • It’s just too hard to get motivated, why bother
  • I’d rather watch my favorite show, chat with friends
  • Insert your excuse(s) here

Never exercised before?

What if you have never done any form of exercise in your entire life and have decided you are going to start now, only you’re worried because you’re over 50? First of all, a high five to you! Head out the door and go for a walk or turn on some music and dance. I guarantee you will feel better, physically and mentally.

I’ve been working out with strength coach Andy Wight for the past year and a half. I try to go twice a week and feel the difference when I miss. I asked him if he had any advice for an older person who wants to start exercising. Here’s what he had to say.

The biggest part is just moving and it doesn’t matter what you do. It could be walking, swimming, yoga, it could be anything. The key is to start slow. A great way to begin is to take a class that offers low impact movement.

If you are able, progress into a resistance training program. It will help build bone density and give protection against osteopenia and osteoporosis. You’ll want to do weight-bearing exercises.

Make sure that what you’re doing is not too intense or overly taxing. Any pain in the muscles or joints, shortness of breath, or dizziness, needs to be addressed. You should get medical clearance ahead of time to make sure you no have risk factors or if you do, how to handle them or make accommodations.

You should expect sore muscles, but there is good pain and there is bad pain — pain versus discomfort, sharp pain versus a dull, light ache. If it’s a sharp pain is something to be addressed. If it’s sore muscles like you had after doing the stationary bike, that’s a good pain.

Diane at the gym on a bike

Yes, it’s true, I had a hard time walking the day after I did the bike for the first time. It was worth it because now my legs are stronger.

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.