Monthly Health Topics

Healthy Aging- Physical Vitality


Physical activity builds physical vitality. With every year of your life, you have more to gain from being physically active. As your age-related risks of chronic disease increase, regular physical activity generally slows that trend. Some research suggests that the heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) benefits you get from physical activity may also help your brain stay healthy. In fact, you're even more likely to notice the benefits of regular physical activity if you already have a chronic condition, such as depression, coronary artery disease, or diabetes.

What are the benefits of being physically active?


On a daily basis, being physically active improves your quality of life by improving your:

  • Energy level.

  • Mental sharpness.

  • Mood (regular aerobic exercise can help manage depression, anxiety, and stress).

  • Balance, strength, and flexibility, which are key to preventing injuries and falls.

  • Odds against chronic illness. Physical activity also often helps manage chronic illness with fewer medicines.


As you get older, an inactive lifestyle increases your risk of chronic disease. Conversely, getting regular aerobic exercise is one of your best defenses against chronic diseases, such as:

  • Coronary artery disease.

  • Osteoarthritis.

  • High blood pressure.

  • Obesity.

  • Osteoporosis (weight-bearing exercise is necessary).

  • Type 2 diabetes.

  • Cancer.

I'm not physically active right now-how do I start?


If you've been inactive for a while, you don't necessarily have to set your sights on becoming athletic-your first goal is to simply start moving more each day. Before you do, though, get off to a smart start by seeing your doctor for a full physical examination. Then you can follow his or her recommendations as well as these guidelines for becoming more physically active.

Add more movement to your daily routine. For example, put away the TV remote control, park farther from building entrances or at the opposite side of the parking lot from where you're going, and take stairs instead of elevators. Walk a lap or two around your house or apartment, then down the street or around a nearby park. Buy a pedometer and gradually increase the number of steps you take each day.

Start with small, short-term goals. It's easiest to keep doing something new when you have early, frequent successes. For example, make a plan to walk for 10 minutes a day, 3 days a week, for 2 weeks.

Make physical fitness a habit with such simple tasks as writing physical activity into your weekly calendar.

After a few weeks of regular physical activity, you will probably feel better than before. When you're ready for more, add some variety to your activity schedule with new ways to build flexibility, aerobic fitness, and muscle strength. Experts say to do either of these things to get and stay healthy:


  • Moderate activity for at least 2 hours a week. One way to do this is to be active 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. Moderate activity means things like brisk walking, brisk cycling, or ballroom dancing. But any activities-including daily chores-that raise your heart rate can be included. You notice your heart beating faster with this kind of activity.

  • Vigorous activity for at least 1 hour a week. One way to do this is to be active 25 minutes a day, at least 3 days a week. Vigorous activity means things like jogging, cycling fast, or cross-country skiing. You breathe rapidly and your heart beats much faster with this kind of activity.

I'm already physically active. Is there anything more I should be doing?


Even if you're happy with your fitness routine, it's a good idea to periodically stop, think, and rework your activities and goals. As age-related issues gradually enter into your fitness equation, keep the following things in mind:


  • Beyond age 60, it's important to spend as much time building strength and flexibility as you spend on aerobic fitness. Strength and flexibility help your body better handle the age-related changes, including loss of muscle and problems with balance. To maintain or improve your balance and resilience, include stretching, muscle strengthening, and such balance-building activities as yoga or tai chi in your weekly routine.
  • It's normal to have to gradually adjust your expectations of how far you can push your body. If you're used to pushing yourself, accept your body's changes and tend toward moderation.
  • Cross-training, or including different activities in your activity calendar, helps you build better overall fitness and helps prevent injury from overuse.
  • Replacing a "lost" activity is a key to staying active. For instance, if you can no longer run, you might try walking, biking, and/or swimming.
  • Injury generally takes longer to recover from as you age. If you are injured, allow your injury time to heal-yet keep the rest of your body moving. You can choose from a list of alternate activities, such as swimming, water exercises, biking, walking, yoga, Pilates, or rowing.
  • To prevent injury, start a new activity gradually, avoid overusing your body, and stretch often. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after you are active. This is very important when it's hot out and when you do intense exercise.