As we age, we lose muscle mass. That’s why it becomes increasingly important to focus on our health and fitness. While there are many different types of exercise, not all are created equal in promoting healthy aging.
“While strength training is an excellent choice for promoting healthy aging, it’s important to remember that it’s not the only type of exercise we should be doing,” says Karen C. Westervelt, Ph.D., PT, ATC, NBC-HWC, a physical therapist and the educational program director for the Integrative Health and Wellness Coaching program at UVM. “There are four general types of exercise: strength training, aerobic or cardiovascular training, flexibility training, and neuromuscular or balance/agility training. You should do all four types of exercise every week.”
She says that age-related loss of muscle mass is accelerated when we are sedentary, which is why it’s essential to incorporate strength training into exercise routines.
Building Strength and Balance
The American College of Sports Medicine physical activity guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly for our cardiovascular health. It also recommends muscle-strengthening activities for each major muscle group at least two days a week.
“We need to stretch each major muscle at least twice a week,” Westervelt says. “Many people forget or don’t realize we must train our balance. Just like we need to train our muscles to get stronger, we need to practice our static and dynamic balance to have good balance. This is particularly important as we age to prevent falls.”
She says that people can gain strength at any age, and a straightforward strengthening exercise that can be done anywhere is the chair stand. All you need is a chair and a timer for a chair stand.
Sit in a chair, such as a kitchen chair—it’s best to use one that does not have wheels. Place your arms across your chest so you are not tempted to use your arms to help push you up to standing. Then, set your timer for 30 seconds and see how many times you can go from sitting to standing up straight.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 65-year-old woman should be able to stand at least 11 times in 30 seconds. A 65-year-old man should be able to stand at least 12 times in 30 seconds.
Keeping Safety in Mind When Exercising
While exercise is essential to healthy aging, it’s also important to exercise safely.
No type of exercise is inherently bad for the body, but it’s critical to avoid going from zero to 100 too quickly, as this is a common mistake that can lead to injury.
Westervelt says it’s a good idea to work with a healthcare provider or exercise specialist to set up an intelligent exercise routine that includes a gradual progression of exercises.
“You can get stronger, more flexible, have better balance, and improve your cardiovascular endurance at any age in response to a progressive exercise program that includes all four types of exercise,” she says. “Staying active is a very important part of healthy aging. Find something active you enjoy doing and someone you enjoy doing it with and stick with it.”
Westervelt was interviewed in a December 2023 Parade magazine article tilted, The #1 Type of Exercise You Should Start Doing ASAP if You Want To Live to 100, According to PTs.
In the article, she emphasizes that no matter what your preferred form of exercise is, you’ll benefit your body every time you do it. The key is exercising regularly. And that can be as simple as lacing up your sneakers and going for a walk.
“Whether you choose to focus on strength training or incorporate various types of exercise into your routine, the most important thing is to keep moving and prioritize your health and fitness,” she says. “Doing so can help ensure you live healthfully into old age.”