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Fit and functional: Safe exercise after 65

Senior man and woman running

It’s important to get regular exercise no matter your age. Consistently working out can improve your mental and physical health in numerous ways. What is safe to do when you’re 20, however, might not be safe to do once you turn 65. 

Knowing the right exercises to improve your health is integral, as is creating a consistent schedule that works for you. Dr. Amine Segueni, an internal medicine specialist at Tryon Medical Partners, provides tips for how to safely exercise after age 65. 

Try to get in two and a half to five hours of moderate intensity exercise each week.

Dr. Segueni recommends that those 65 and older should work to achieve 150-300 minutes (two and a half to five hours) of moderate intensity exercise each week. For higher intensity exercises, he recommends keeping this number between 100-150 minutes. Moderate intensity is defined as activity that raises your heart rate 50-60% higher than your resting heart rate. 

“The best and safest exercise is walking at a brisk rate,” Dr. Segueni says “You want to be able to walk and talk without taking your breath away.” 

Both prior to and following your walks, Dr. Segueni also recommends things like stretching and tai chi. Always warm up well before exercise and do ten minutes of stretching twice a week to keep the muscles safe.

Incorporate weight lifting to help decrease your fall risk and prevent osteoporosis.

As we grow older, our risk for falling and developing osteoporosis increases. Dr. Segueni notes that weight-bearing exercises can help those over the age of 65 with balance, which decreases fall risk, and can also help to strengthen our bones to limit the onset of additional conditions.

The benefit of weight lifting is particularly important for women over age 65. To determine the appropriate amount of weight, you should conduct a baseline assessment with your doctor and develop a lifting routine together. 

Exercise not just for your physical health, but for your mental health.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Segueni notes that he has seen increased rates of anxiety and depression among his patients, something that is particularly true for patients over age 65. In particular, more limited social interactions have left many feeling that their mental health has declined. 

“We aren’t able to meet with friends and family, and exercise can increase happiness and decrease stress and anxiety,” Dr. Segueni says. 

Exercise can help to improve your mental health, as it increases serotonin (a hormone that improves overall mood) and can help alleviate stress. An additional benefit to your mental health is that exercise can help with improving memory as well. 

Break up your exercise routine into smaller pieces for better overall impact.

If it feels overwhelming to exercise for long periods of time, don’t get discouraged. 

Most people think that exercise needs to be done all at the same time,” Dr. Segueni says. “The data actually shows that doing different, shorter exercises throughout the day can be beneficial.” 

You can start your day with a 15 minute walk then plan to lift weights for 15 minutes in the evening. Interspersed with that, you can get up at least one minute each hour to walk around the house briefly. This way, you can achieve your weekly exercise goals without feeling overwhelmed. 

Work with your doctor to establish your baseline and develop an individualized exercise plan.

It is important to recognize that the exercises that work for you might not work for others. Before starting a new exercise program, work with your doctor to establish your baseline and build a sustainable and safe plan. 

“If you ever decide to do any more exercising, always seek help to make sure you are able to do it to avoid injuries,” Dr. Segueni says. 

Your doctor can help determine weight limits for strength exercises and assess whether any of your pre-existing health conditions might interfere with potential exercises. Remember, even superheroes need their team to help them make sure they’re saving the city safely!

Listen to your body if there are signs that something in your exercise routine isn’t working.

As you begin to develop an exercise regimen that works for you, don’t ignore the signals that your body is sending you. While working out, keep your heart rate under 140 beats per minute when doing moderate physical activity. Overall, you should never increase your heart rate to anything about 220 minus your age. 

Dr. Segueni emphasises that you should not “ignore signals that your body is sending you.” If you start to feel anything unusual (your knee hurts, you can’t lift your arm), contact your doctor. To ensure you aren’t overdoing it, Dr. Segueni recommends simple rules such as icing painful areas, resting and taking NSAIDs (assuming none of your medications interact poorly with them). 

By listening to your body and collaborating with a trusted physician, you’ll be able to maintain a strong exercise routine for longer and improve your overall well-being.