We all know that physical activity can help to boost heart health. Cardio exercise which can include but is not limited to walking, jogging, swimming, biking, dancing and hiking, has the benefits of promoting heart and lung health, elevates mood, improves circulation, and can prevent and reduce the progression of chronic diseases. How much of cardio should we be getting? The Canadian Physical Activity Guideline, recommends for those 65 and plus, should be getting up to 150 minutes per week. This is about 30 minutes a day for 5 days or you could break this down into 10 minute increments.
This can seem daunting at first if you are just starting an exercise routine. That is why it is important to understand that you break it down into smaller numbers when you are just starting. Research has shown that even being moderately active is enough to make a positive impact on your health. Just a few short walks a week to start with can have a significant effect on health and lower the risk of heart disease.
It is not just cardio that we need as part of a balanced exercise program, we also need strength training, balance and flexibility.
Strength training should be done 2 to 3 times a week and not back to back days. You need to have at least one rest day in between your strength training day. Why do we want to strength train? Strength training also known as resistance training, will strengthen our bones and muscles, promotes mobility, reduces falls risk and will also help with managing and maintaining a healthy weight. If you try to aim for 10 -15 repetitions of 1 to 3 sets per exercise, you will be doing great. If you are just starting out, you would start with doing maybe 1 set of 10 repetitions and then you can work your way up to increasing your repetitions to make it harder and increasing your sets from 1 to 3. To keep improving, you have to challenge your self and that is how your muscles will grow stronger. The type of equipment that you can use for strength training, can be resistance bands, free weights, your body weight or machines. There is many different ways that you can strength train.
Balance is another component to exercise that is very important. Especially as we age balance becomes even more important. It really is something that needs to be practiced every day. We lose it if we do not practice every day to keep what balance we already have and/or to improve. There is two distinct types of balance, dynamic balance which involves moving and static balance which is not moving. Both types of balance are great to do and should be incorporated into your daily living. 5 to 15 minutes is all you need a day. Even 5 minutes consistently a day will make a big difference to your overall balance. How challenging should your balancing be? You want to be like a gentle breeze vs. hurricane. Meaning you want to move and wobble a little bit while standing still because this is how we engage those core muscles that are needed for balance. If you are standing completely still and not moving at all, then those core muscles are not being activated. You also do not want to be moving so much that you could put yourself in an unsafe position by falling. Always practice your balancing near something stable such as a wall, chair or counter top surface, so that you have that support if needed. The benefits of balance include better mobility and this aids in preventing falls. When we practice balance we use several systems in our bodies. These systems include the vestibular system (inner ear), visual system and the muscular system. Balance is an essential component to your exercise routine.
The last component to your exercise routine is flexibility, also known as stretching. Stretching should be done on a daily basis. Stretching especially needs to be done after each exercise session. Stretching should feel gentle and pain free. You should be able to feel a stretch at the end of your range of motion. Each stretch should be held for 30 seconds at least and can be repeated 2 to 4 times if the stretch feels good. You can stretch while seated, standing or lying down but should not bounce while doing your stretches. Some benefits of stretching include, increased range of motion, reduces stiffness and the likelihood of injuries. Stretching also promotes the health of joints, ligaments and tendons in your body. As we age it becomes even more important to stretch.
It might seem intimidating at first to combine all 4 components: cardio, strength, balance and flexibility to your exercise routine but remember you start out with just doing a small amount at a time and before you know it, you will be gradually increasing your time and what you can do. Every little bit counts and remember, just keep moving!