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The Aging Well Issue

5 Important Ways to Stay Active as You Age

Key Takeaways

  • Women tend to age more quickly than men because of menopause, hormonal changes, and biological differences.
  • Combining strength training with regular exercise is crucial for maintaining muscle mass as you age.
  • Simple practices, such as warming up and stretching before and after your workout, can help reduce the risk of injuries.

Staying active as you age can help relieve chronic pain, reduce stress, and maintain your quality of life.

Starting in your 30s, you might start losing muscle mass and strength. Women also tend to age more quickly than men because of hormonal shifts that can lead to changes in bone health, body shape, and physical function.

“If you’re a woman and you lose estrogen, you tend to lose a greater amount of muscle, bone, and cartilage,” said Bert Mandelbaum, MD, a sports medicine specialist and co-chair of medical affairs at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles. “But you have the potential of modifying them on so many levels, including with exercise and diet.”

Here are five things to keep in mind and help you stay physically active as you age, according to health experts. 

Exercise Regularly 

Health guidelines recommend that adults get 150–300 minutes of moderate activities or 75–150 minutes of vigorous activities per week. You can break your exercise into smaller chunks of time, such as exercising 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity can include brisk walking, dancing, and gardening. Vigorous aerobic exercise is more intense, like running, swimming laps, jumping rope, or hiking uphill with a heavy backpack.

The type of exercise and duration varies based on individual physical capabilities, said Megan E. Rau, MD, MPH, a geriatric medicine specialist at NYU Langone Health.  

“For somebody, exercising regularly may mean simply doing that walk in the park, but for somebody else who maybe has more physical conditioning, it may be running five miles,” Rau said.

She added that no matter how old you are, it’s never too late to start moving. You can even begin by parking further away when going to work or the grocery store or climbing a flight of stairs instead of using the elevator. She said it’s all about finding an activity that you find interesting and will enjoy.

“Starting an exercise routine or incorporating more physical activity into your daily life is going to be important in maintaining your function as you age,” Rau explained.

It’s all about finding the one exercise you love, whether it’s Zumba or Pilates, she added.

Add Muscle-strengthening Exercises to Your Routine

For older adults, muscle-strengthening exercises are recommended twice a week in addition to other moderate-to-intense activities. Resistance training can help maintain muscle mass, Rau said.

“That’s important as people age because you need some of that strength to do just your general activities, whether it’s going grocery shopping or lifting a gallon of milk,” she said.

Lifting weights, using resistance bands, climbing stairs, push-ups, sit-ups, and squats are a few examples of strength training activities.

Balance High-intensity and Low-intensity Activities

High-intensity workouts, like running or jumping rope, can help you sweat and get your heart rate going,  says Matthew Best, MD, director of research in the sports medicine division at Johns Hopkins Medicine, but they could also make you more prone to injury or pain.

“People with joint problems or pain may notice less exacerbation of their symptoms with lower impact activity,” Best told Verywell.

Lower-intensity activities may include biking and water aerobics, which are less strenuous for people with arthritis or cartilage degeneration, he added.

According to Rau, it’s important to pay attention to your body when trying out a new routine or activity. For example, if your knees hurt from running or squats, you can consider switching to an activity with a lower impact, such as riding a recumbent bike or swimming.

Warm Up, Cool Down, and Stretch 

Another way to safely stay active as you age is to warm up before exercising—like walking or jogging slowly, doing arm swings and ankle circles, or stretching.

“A proper warm-up should be performed before a workout to help reduce the risk of injury,” Best said. “Stretching can be incorporated into a warm-up routine and help maintain flexibility, even for those who already work out consistently.”

In addition, cooling down and stretching after a workout is just as essential to prevent injury from physical activity as it helps to keep muscles flexible.

“Stretching helps with flexibility and balance, which are going to be important when preventing things such as falls at a later age,” Rau said.

Hydrate and Eat a Well-Balanced Diet 

Eating a well-balanced diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein like fish, chicken, beans, and nuts is equally as important as exercising, Rau noted.

In addition to diet, proper hydration is also key to helping you stay mobile as hydration helps replace lost fluids and regulates body temperature during physical exercise and activity, Best said.

Drinking water throughout the day is especially important when you get older because your total amount of body fluid declines with age. Your thirst response may also be weaker, so you must remind yourself to hydrate rather than rely on your body's signal.

What This Means For You

Exercising consistently, incorporating cardio and strength training into your routine, hydrating, and eating a well-balanced diet are actionable things you can do to safely stay physically active as you age.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Executive summary: physical activity guidelines for americans, 2nd edition.

  2. National Health Service. How to improve your strength and flexibility.

By Alyssa Hui
Alyssa Hui is a St. Louis-based health and science news writer. She was the 2020 recipient of the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association Jack Shelley Award.