An exercise routine is good. Even better? Shaking it up once in a while. Here's how to get started.
How's your day going? If you're like most of us, you probably got up at the same time, ate your usual bowl of cereal before going for a walk, stretching your legs, performing a few arm curls.
All good! Routines provide structure. Change is hard, why bother?
“It’s a common misconception that active aging adults want to do the same thing all the time,” says Damien A. Joyner, C.P.T., a physical therapist who specializes in healthy aging and owns Incremental Fitness in San Diego.
"Trying new fitness activities is good for your body and brain. You feel more confident when you try new things," says Joyner.
Here’s why and how to try something new:
#1: You’ll Get Even Smarter
You know the value of exercise (that’s why you’re reading the SilverSneakers blog!). It keeps you healthy, nimble, active, and independent, according to the National Institute on Aging.
Regular physical activity also protects the brain from aging and promotes the growth of new brain cells, according to a 2020 University of California, San Francisco study, preserving learning and memory. Exercise has been shown to effectively reverse brain aging by up to two years.
“It’s absolutely more important for your brain health to be engaged in new types of physical activity as you age,” says Kenneth Koncilja, M.D., a geriatrician from Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Geriatric Medicine.
That's because the same exercise that promotes blood flow to your heart is good for your brain. "Your brain takes a quarter of your blood flow and is only 3 percent of your body weight," Dr. Koncilja explains. "It's hungry!"
How to get started: Dr. Koncilja suggests changing up your regular strolls.
"Walk farther or add intervals of slower walking with faster walking," he says. "Go faster uphill to raise your heart rate and slower downhill to challenge your muscles. Variety is good!"
Find fun new walking workouts in our Power Your Walk Challenge here.
Folks with arthritis or compromised mobility might consider a fun outdoor water aerobics class, Joyner suggests, preferably in a pool heated to the ideal 83 degrees.
"Take a short class, like 20 minutes, and don't feel bad about taking a break," he says. "Working out in the water is harder than you think!"
#2: Your Fitness Will Improve
The good news about your regular exercise routine is that you're exercising regularly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults 65 and older get 150 minutes of physical activity a week, or a half hour most days of the week.
The only downside? The fitness gains you make when you first start walking or taking an aerobics class plateau over time.
“After many months or years of doing the same routine, our body will start to adapt and the exercises will not have the same value that they previously did,” explains Amanda Sachdeva, P.T., D.P.T., C.S.C.S., physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
“It is important as we age to vary the exercises we do to create new stimulus and improve coordination, balance, and overall strength,” Sachdeva says.
How to get started: Joyner suggests moving in different directions. “If I’m a runner or a walker, I’m always moving forward,” he says.
The antidote? When strength-training, try swapping regular squats for lateral moves, that is, squatting and taking sideways steps while maintaining the squat position.
Try this quick “Get Fit on the Side” workout.
Or challenge your mind and body by picking up a paddle to join one of the millions of people making pickleball the fastest-growing sport in America, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.
#3: You’ll Boost Balance
Who doesn’t want to go for a hike or try stand-up paddle boarding without fear of falling?
In an intriguing German study measuring the effect of exercise on brain health, two groups of adults with an average age of 68 were assigned to an 18-month program of dance routines or endurance and flexibility training.
The dance group tried a new type of dance each week, with different choreography, steps, and arm patterns that they had to memorize, challenging both their physical and mental abilities.
While both groups showed an increase in the region of the brain responsible for memory, the dance group showed significant improvement in balance. (Plus, they probably had more fun.)
How to get started: “Dancing is a great way to challenge your coordination and rhythm, which is good to improve balance as we age,” says Sachdeva.
#4: You’ll Make New Friends
Jumping into a water aerobics class will introduce you to a group of like-minded fitness folks. Trying the increasingly popular pickleball guarantees social interactions because you'll need someone to play with!
“It’s important to have the social aspect to motivate you and to hold you accountable,” says Dr. Koncilja. “Plus, the past two years of the pandemic isolated many people and made them lonely. Socialization is hugely beneficial to the brain.”
One study in the Journal of Osteopathic Medicine noted that folks who worked out together reported improved quality of life and 26 percent less stress than subjects who exercised alone. The solo exercisers reported putting in more effort without the social gains.
How to get started: Plug your zip code into the USA Pickleball website (places2play.org) to find courts within driving distance as well as helpful details like hours and levels of play and contact information for coaches and organizers.
SilverSneakers Community classes offer 100+ different classes that you won’t find on SilverSneakers LIVE or when you join us at the gym. Plus, social time is a regular occurrence with many SilverSneakers Community classes. Find local SilverSneakers Community classes here.
#5. You’ll Live a Longer, Healthier Life
Dr. Koncilja points to the holistic approach of the Blue Zones. The Blue Zones are the five regions of the world where people routinely live to age 100 thanks to physical activity, positive group socialization, a healthy diet, and stress reduction.
All of which new fitness activities provide, he says.
"Pushing yourself to learn new fitness techniques has great outcomes for brain health and longevity," says Dr. Koncilja. "You're training your brain for healthy aging."
How to get started: It’s never too late to try new fitness activities, says Dr. Koncilja. As always, check with your physician first, especially if you have chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or arthritis.
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