No one is going to argue that staying fit is not important to your health. “The single thing that comes close to a magic bullet, in terms of its strong and universal benefits, is exercise,” says Frank Hu, epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Regular exercise can lower the risk of heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, depression, dementia and other diseases and conditions. Among older adults in particular, studies show that exercise plays a greater role than diet in preventing age-related weight gain.
Even with all this great information, so many of us still struggle to get active. Staying motivated in a fitness routine can be a real challenge for older people — for people of all generations, really. If you or a senior friend or loved one is lacking that get-up-and-go, here are a six tips to inspire you.
1. Make it fun
Fitness should be fun. There’s nothing worse then taking on — and then dreading — your new fitness routine. To stay motivated, it’s important to choose activities you truly enjoy. Your fitness program should feel like a nice break in your day, rather than an obligation or a chore. Here are the nine top fitness activities for older adults, touted by the senior fitness program Silver Sneakers:
Other fitness activities popular among seniors are Zumba, the ancient martial art of Tai chi and social dancing. Something for everyone, pretty much.
2. Enlist your friends and family
Share your fitness objectives and goals with family and friends. A strong support system can make a big difference. Your loved ones will want to motivate and inspire you. They can also help you feel accountable and remind you of just how important you are to them — and just how much they want you to thrive.
3. Create an enjoyable routine
- You’ve probably seen weightlifters and bodybuilders working in pairs at the gym. A buddy system like this is mutually beneficial: partners help each other move around weights, “spot” each other on difficult moves and egg each other on.
You can reproduce this model in the wild by enlisting a fitness buddy to join you in a few activities. Working out with someone you perceive as more physically fit than you can help boost your workout time and intensity by as much as 200 percent, according to research from Kansas State University.
4. Create an enjoyable routine
There’s an old expression, “We make habits, and then habits make us.” Turning your routine into a regular habit is the best way to stay motivated. Come up with a comfortable and enjoyable routine you can stick to throughout the week. Soon enough, it will start to feel like an essential part of your life. You may, in fact, feel an odd twinge when your routine is disrupted — one that motivates you to double up on your exercise the next time.
Studies show you’ll have more success if you pair or “bundle” your fitness activities with something you actually want to do, like catch up on your favorite podcast or listen to an audiobook during that daily walk or spin on the bike.
5. Think outside the box
If breaking a sweat at the gym isn’t your thing, find other activities to get your muscles moving and blood flowing. Crazy as it sounds, even ordinary household activities can help boost your motivation. Add headphones and uplifting music, and off you go. Here are a few:
- Sweep the stoop: Grab a broom and tidy up your front entry, hallway, porch or actual stoop
- Ditch the noisy leaf blower and rake leaves in the fall
- Keep hand weights, resistance bands and a yoga mat in the den, so you can flex your muscles or stretch out while watching a favorite TV show
- Go on a dusting/tidying binge in one or more rooms
6. Set discrete, short-term fitness goals
National fitness guidelines recommend 150 minutes of exercise per week to maintain physical and mental health. That’s about 20 minutes a day.
With this as guide, create specific, short-term goals for yourself that won’t feel impossible to meet. Walking 20-30 minutes a day, five days a week is one example. Short-term goals help establish you in a steady routine, and propel you toward your longer-term objectives. Bonus: your mood improves, and you feel even more energized and motivated.
Regular, moderate exercise can improve the quality of your life, help battle the effects of chronic disease and have a positive effect on both physical and mental well being. That’s truly the bottom line.
One of the most motivating and powerful influences is the knowledge that you’re helping yourself in the best way possible. The goal is to do as much physical activity as your body will allow, celebrate small victories and rest when you need to.
With these tips in mind, you should be able to keep up with your wellness goals and stay stronger and fitter as you grow older.