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Tips for Older Adults to Become More Active

While advice on how to accomplish the lifestyle change of a new fitness or physical activity regime is widespread, little of it is targeted to adults ages 50-plus. To help answer questions that Baby Boomers and their parents have about how to become more physically active, the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) created its "Welcome Back to Fitness" website. ICAA, an association that supports professionals who develop wellness and fitness facilities and services for adults 50 and over, has geared this site especially to the needs of older adults, offering a unique collection of checklists, questions and answers, as well as guides to age-friendly fitness centers, equipment and trainers.

Individuals who are contemplating lifestyle change can turn to the "Health Tips" section of the ICAA Welcome Back to Fitness site to find out about the many options for activity. But this site is not only for people who are thinking about becoming active, it is also for those who are just getting started with exercise and those who are working out regularly. In addition, the resources provided are helpful regardless of whether older adults intend to or already exercise at home or in a gym or seniors center.

Here are 20 tips to help adults in their 50s and beyond (as well as anyone else) succeed in becoming more physically active:

1. Get a checkup
People should meet with a healthcare provider to see whether they'll need to consider any special modifications before starting an exercise program. If necessary, get a clearance to begin a program.

2. Know the options
Before starting any program, examine the options. People should pick a program they know they will enjoy. Some individuals like to go to a gym and do a structured workout, while others enjoy a neighborhood walking club. Either will help improve fitness, ability to function and quality of life--but only if people do it regularly.

3. Determine the participation style
People should consider whether they would prefer taking a class or going solo? Are they a morning or night person? Does indoor fitness appeal, or would they prefer to play outside? Could they dedicate large blocks of time to physical activity or could they fit only shorter, more frequent intervals into their schedule? People should be realistic about how they participate.

4. Start slowly
Many people are eager to get started and sometimes overdo it, which usually makes them sore and can make them want to stop. A good way to start slowly is to discover a baseline. Record all the activities during each waking hour or for two- or three-hour time blocks, tracking how much time is sedentary (e.g., sitting at a desk) or tive (e.g., walking to the bus stop). At day's end, count how many hours have and have not been physically active. Then look at when some short (e.g., 10 minutes) bouts of brisk walking could be fitted into the day.

5. Make a date
Find a buddy to exercise with and keep each other motivated. Whether it's a friend to walk with in the neighborhood or a personal trainer in a gym, that appointment makes it more likely people will do the walk or workout.

6. Set specific short- and long-term goals
Make goals as specific as possible. For example, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I will do a brisk, 10-minute walk in the morning before my shower, at lunch time and after dinner. Being specific means people are planning for activity in the day and making it a priority. Long-term goals are also important. Is there an activity people would like to do that they feel physically incapable of at the moment, but may be able to do with a little effort? Set a long-term goal to help do it.

7. Make a list
List the benefits expected from the physical activity program, then make sure these are realistic and reasonable. Many people expect enormous benefits, such as losing 30 pounds in a month. When these benefits don't materialize, they feel disappointed and relapse because they feel like they've failed. Try to make the benefits about things that can be controlled, rather than an outcome (such as weight). People should build a list of benefits as they increase their physical activity-they'll be surprised at how long the list becomes.

8. Invest in health
Do people want to spend money on joining a program? Or would they prefer to develop a program they can do for little cost, using objects or props in a home or office? Both options are available.

9. Check out the facility
Does the facility feel friendly? Can people change clothes comfortably? If the facility has a pool, what is its water temperature? About 84-86°F is comfortable for moderate to vigorous activity, while warmer temperatures are nice for range-of-motion and relaxation programs. Does the pool or workout room have an easy and safe exit/entry? People should ask to try various programs, so they can decide which program feels the most comfortable and fun.

10. Check out the staff
Are the people who work in the facility friendly and interested? Are they qualified to work with older adults? Do the staff members each have a college degree in health? Do they offer pre-exercise fitness assessments, with periodic updates? Are they interested in helping people learn how to modify exercises to fit their fitness level and conditions? Do they encourage social interaction? Talk to mature adults who currently participate in their programs to build a complete picture.

11. Make choices
To move forward, people need to leave some things behind. People need to think about what they are willing to give up to make room for exercise. Bad habits? Nonproductive activities? Nonbeneficial relationships?

12. Every step counts
Wear a step counter throughout the day to count how many steps are taken. Less active people tend to take about 4,000 steps or fewer per day. Aim to do 250 to 1,000 additional steps of brisk walking, until reaching 8,000 to 10,000 steps in a day.

13. Keep moving all the time
Stretch, walk, march in place, stand and sit as many times as possible when talking on the phone or during TV commercials.

14. Create a support network
Tell friends and family about the new goals and ask for their support and encouragement. Involving others often helps people keep their commitments. Consider scheduling telephone reminders from the support network to help keep on track.

15. Join a class
Select an exercise class appropriate for health status and ability. Check with the local YMCA, JCC, hospital-based fitness program, city recreation program or health club to view the course offerings. Visit the local arthritis foundation for a list of all aquatic and land-based classes designed for those with arthritis conditions.

16. Wear the right shoes
Foot comfort and support is important for all impact physical activities. If people have arthritis, diabetes or orthopedic problems, they can remain physically active with the help of padded sock products and appropriate shoes.

17. If it hurts, don't do it
Work around pain, not through it.

18. Follow a well-rounded program
Include all five components of a successful program: warm-up, flexibility, cardio, resistance and cooldown.

19. Reward yourself
Once people have reached their goal, they should treat themselves to something that reminds them of what a good job they've done and encourages them to continue. Make it something that feeds the spirit, but is not necessarily food or an expensive purchase.

20. Don't quit
Like brushing teeth, make exercise part of daily life.

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