Four areas of fitness are key to staying healthy and independent, according to Exercise: A Guide by the National Institute on Aging, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the U.S. Public Health Service’s Office on Women’s Health. They are endurance, strength, flexibility and balance.
• Endurance – Endurance exercises are any activity that increases your heart rate and breathing for an extended period of time. Build up your endurance gradually, starting out with as little as five minutes of endurance training at a time. Your goal should be to work up to a moderate-to-vigorous level that increases your breathing and heart rate for at least 10 minutes at a time, for a total of at least 30 minutes at the end of the day. Examples of moderate endurance activities include walking briskly or cycling on a stationary bicycle, but could also include mopping or scrubbing floors or mowing or raking the lawn.
• Strength Training – Increasing your strength can help maintain or improve your mobility, strengthen your bones and help you control your weight and blood sugar. You can find strength-training equipment at a health club, purchase it at a sporting-goods store or make it yourself: emptied milk jugs filled with sand or water or socks filled with beans and tied shut at the ends work for some people. Start off with a minimum of weight, and build up gradually.
• Flexibility – Stretching exercises will increase your flexibility, helping you move more freely. Regular stretching can also help prevent injury.
• Balance – Maintaining good balance may help you prevent a serious fall. Exercises to improve balance are very similar to strength training for the leg muscles.
For more information and for specific exercises in each of these categories, visit the National Institute on Aging at www.nia.nih.gov/exercisebook.