Cardio and strength training are considered by many the tentpoles of physical fitness. Even the federal government’s best-known recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control focus on those two forms of exercise. But there are two equally important categories, which the CDC recommends for older adults.
It’s never too early or late to start integrating balance and flexibility training into your routine to add variety, as well as to protect against injury.
Brisk walking, running, swimming, dancing and other high-energy activity is what your heart and lungs need to work at maximum efficiency. Such activities lower blood pressure as well as your heart rate during your workouts and other daily activities while lowering blood sugar, inflammation and the risk of numerous life-threatening illnesses. The CDC recommends doing at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise or a combination every week.
This is any activity that challenges your muscles through weight, most often in the form of dumbbells and weight machines but also by using your own bodyweight through such exercises as push-ups and squats and resistance band work. Resistance work increases your muscle mass when you’re younger and builds it back as you begin to lose it with age, which in turn helps to lower your metabolism, improve your posture and protect your joints. The CDC recommends you train for strength at least two days weekly.
Stretching our muscles is so important before, and especially after, working out to ensure they are as long and lean as possible — tight muscles are weaker, making any activity more difficult and injury prone. Injured and weak muscles also lead to joint problems. As we get older our muscles tend to tighten on their own, so flexibility training counteracts that process and makes walking and other everyday activities easier, along with any intentional workouts you take on.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, it’s a good idea to warm your muscles up with about five to 10 minutes of dynamic stretches that take your muscles through their full range of motion, such as arm circles, hip circles and marching in place.
Then move into static stretching in which you extend your muscles to their full range and hold for 30 to 60 seconds, concentrating on your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors and quadriceps in your lower back and your shoulders and neck. Harvard Health recommends doing stretching exercises at least three to four times a week.
Having good balance keeps you steadier on your feet and protects you from falls, which are increasingly problematic as you get older but can cause injury at any age.
Adults of all ages can increase their confidence through classes in tai chi or yoga, while older adults and others who have balance concerns, are afraid of falling or have fallen can often find a physical therapist to determine their needs and prescribe specific exercises.