What Does It Mean To Get “Fit”?Posted by Medicare Made Clear
The 1970s fitness craze spawned a mega-industry of exercise apparel, equipment and services. It often seemed less about improving health than about looking good while you did it!
We now know that the benefits of being fit go far beyond a beach body or improved image, especially for older adults. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) says that regular physical activity—a cornerstone of achieving fitness—may help:
- Prevent or delay diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis
- Reduce the impact of existing illness and chronic disease
- Prevent memory loss, cognitive decline and dementia
- Enhance mobility and preserve independence
- Manage stress and improve mood
- Improve sleep
But what does it really mean to “get fit”?
4 Ways to Get Fit
Fitness is about being able to do the things you like to do and the things you need to do to live a full life. According to the NIA, this requires maintaining or improving your performance level in four areas. Many activities, such as tennis or yoga, address more than one of these areas at once. But there are also simple exercises you can do to focus on each.
1. Balance. Good balance is necessary for many activities of daily living, such as going up and down stairs. It’s also important in helping to prevent falls, which are a major cause of disability in older adults. Test your balance by standing on just one foot for a period of time. Use a chair or wall for support if you need to. Then switch and stand on just the other foot. Try to increase the length of time you stand on each foot as your balance improves. If you want a little more challenge, raise your arms over your head.
2. Flexibility. The more flexible you are the easier it may be to do things like reach the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard, look over your shoulder when backing up the car or bend to pick up dropped items. Exercises for flexibility help maintain or increase the range of motion in your joints. Simple stretches like bending to each side at your waist, bending forward to reach for your toes or squatting (with support as needed) are good for keeping your body limber. It’s best to stretch when your muscles are warmed up, such as after a walk. Also, try to stretch far enough to feel it, but not so far that it hurts.
3. Strength. You need strong muscles to get up from a chair or from the floor, to lift a grandchild and to carry groceries into the house. Strong muscles also may help prevent falls. You don’t have to use heavy weights or machines to build muscle, though you certainly can. Pushups, from your knees or your feet, are very effective for building and maintaining upper-body strength. You can also try using a food can as a weight. Do arm curls by bending your elbow to raise the can toward your shoulder, and then lower it. Or raise and lower the can from your shoulder, holding your arm straight. You can raise it to the side or to the front. Start with 5 or 10 repetitions and build from there.
4. Endurance. Endurance requires a healthy heart, healthy lungs and good circulation, all of which may help prevent or delay some diseases. Endurance activities increase your heart rate to a safe “working” level and keep it there for a period of time. Examples include walking, swimming, biking and dancing.Try to build up to at least 30 minutes of activity that makes you breathe hard. You don’t have to stay active for 30 minutes all at once. Ten minutes at a time is fine. Here’s the test for how hard to push yourself: If you can talk with ease, you’re not working hard enough. If you can’t talk at all, you’re working too hard. Try to do endurance activities on most days of the week.
Your Fitness, Your Way
You don’t need special clothes or expensive equipment to become more active. Make physical activity part of your everyday life. Find things you like to do, and do them. Go for walks. Ride a bike. Dance. Work around the house. Garden. Look for ways to bring enjoyable physical activity into your daily routine. Also, check with your Medicare Advantage plan to see whether it includes a gym membership or another fitness-related benefit.
For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.
Go4Life: Visit this site sponsored by the National Institute on Aging for information and resources to help you get and stay fit.
Physical Activity Guidelines: Learn more about the amount and types of physical activity recommended for older adults.
Medicare & You: Get the U.S. government’s official Medicare handbook.