Vibrant, vital, happy and healthy--this is the ideal state of life that virtually everyone wants to achieve, regardless of age. It's doable, but the secret isn't a cosmetic quick-fix. Rather, the best way to stay physically strong, healthy and full of optimism with each passing year is a daily investment in exercise that works with your body's biological changes.
"There is no expiration date on physical fitness," says Dr. Vonda Wright, a renowned orthopedic surgeon and author of "Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age." "There is no level of sedentary that's too sedentary to start exercising. There is no unwritten biological 'law' that says you have to get slower, less active and less fit as you grow older."
Unfortunately, most of us get less and less exercise as we get older, and our bodies start to fail because we fail them. Yet a growing number of 40-plus athletes--like Olympic medalist Dara Torres--are successfully competing against people half their age. They're living proof that fitness is achievable by anyone, at any age.
The key, says Wright, is to have a strategic plan. Just as you plan your retirement or social life, you need a plan for staying healthy. And a daily investment in physical activity should be at the heart of your strategic health plan.
"Age is not the true enemy of health," Wright says. Rather, a sedentary lifestyle is the true obstacle to enduring health, fitness and strength. Many life-threatening chronic diseases are linked to inactivity, and can be helped by a daily dose of just 30 minutes of exercise.
Adults over 40 should engage in 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days per week, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' recommendations. A wide range of activities, including such mundane tasks as heavy gardening, provide the health benefits of vigorous physical activity. The main message behind the department's physical activity recommendations is that what you do to get moving--and when you start--are less important than simply being active on a regular basis.
"Even if you're currently living a sedentary lifestyle, it's possible to become active and fit now," Wright says. "No matter how many times you've celebrated your 39th birthday from the comfort of your armchair, you can still make dramatic fitness changes by investing 30 minutes every day in your body."
In her book, Wright sums up the four critical components of a smart, well-rounded exercise regimen as: "F.A.C.E.--ing Your Future." The acronym stands for:
¥ F for flexibility--Stretching muscles for 15 minutes daily can help prevent ligament tears, muscle strains and tendonitis. Simple stretching exercises, like the warm-ups you used to do in high school gym class, can improve flexibility and prevent injury.
¥ A for aerobics--Get your heart and lungs pumping moderately three to five times a week. Take a long and briskly paced walk, join a water aerobics class, mow the lawn, play ball with the kids or grandkids--virtually any moderate to vigorous physical activity can help improve your overall cardiovascular health. Just be sure to exercise safely.
¥ C for carrying a load--Build strong bones and muscles with resistance training three times a week. Working out with resistance bands can be an easy, convenient way to build bone and muscle strength.
¥ E for equilibrium--As we age, falling evolves from a minor mishap to a serious health risk. Maintain balance and avoid falls with a few simple, day moves. Wright recommends simply getting into the habit of standing on one leg while performing any task that requires you to stand for a while, such as washing the dishes.
These simple steps can help adult-onset exercisers become active, and already-active athletes become even better safely and healthfully.
As baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan writes in his foreword to Wright's book: "Aging . . . is not a reason for slowing down."
Wright agrees: "Staying as physically active as possible can help all Americans be as healthy and vital as possible at any age."
Courtesy of ARAcontent