As we get older, it becomes harder for many of us to engage in the fitness and athletic pursuits we’ve enjoyed for years. It’s tougher — both mentally and physically — to play a full round of golf, two sets of tennis or take a daily two-mile walk. It also can be very discouraging to accept diminished performance, such as losing a tennis match to someone you used to beat. And just getting out of bed the next morning with creaking joints, sore muscles and general aches and pains can be a painful reminder that we’re not getting any younger.
However, if we don’t keep making the effort, starting anew after a prolonged period of lethargy can feel insurmountable — particularly trying to resume activities at our previous levels. So it’s better to take a slow-down route; to accept our reduced capabilities (and ensuing losses, if necessary) and understand that the point of exercise is no longer to excel, but to persevere.
The reality is that staying active can help ward off health issues. Fortunately, there are plenty of things we do every day that can help maintain a high level of fitness without expending excess effort. For example, when you do things you love, like swimming or playing with your grandchildren, you reap healthful benefits without feeling like it is exercise.1 Yes, you do feel exhausted afterward, but that’s the point.
Other things you can do that do not require being a slave to a fitness regimen include gardening, dancing, bowling and bicycling. One of the keys to staying fit as you age is to focus on choosing activities that increase the heart rate, require changing positions and flexing muscles and, most importantly, are activities you enjoy.2 Plus, the greater variety the better, as constant repetition can wear down aging bodies.
Bear in mind that it is important to consult with a physician before starting a new vigorous activity, particularly if you have a history of heart disease, balance issues, joint pain, or any other chronic health condition.3
1 Harvard Medical School. July 2016. “Exercise-free activities that work your muscles and heart.” http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/exercise-free-activities-that-work-your-muscles-and-heart. Accessed March 30, 2017.