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Martina Navratilova: How to Stay Fit and Make Your Workout More Effective

Tips on keeping healthy through exercise

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Everyone knows exercise is good for your health. But let me remind you of some of the ways it is: Exercise cuts your risk for heart disease, joint and bone problems, and certain types of cancer. It can reduce your risk of disability and improve key aspects of your physical functioning, including walking, maintaining balance and getting up from a chair. Exercise also improves thinking, learning and memory. And, of course, it helps us look good, too. We still care about looking good, don't we?

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Couple taking dance lessons, Top Things You Can Do to Make Your Workout More Effective

Dancing will improve your posture and help you build strength and flexibility. — Photo by Mango Productions/Corbis

I don't have a my-way-or-the-highway program for you for getting the most out of the time you spend exercising, and I certainly won't say: "You will exercise or else!" I just want you to get moving, several times a week, doing something you love. Over the years, I've exercised many different ways and those workouts have kept me youthful (for my age), energetic and healthy. That said, here's some advice for making your body and health better through exercise.

  • Do strength training. This form of exercise is a true fountain of youth — the only form of physical activity known to rebuild vital body tissue. I'm talking muscle and bone — both of which we lose with age. If you're afraid to lift barbells and dumbbells, ask a personal trainer or gym staff member to show you the ropes on exercise machines. Make sure you adjust them properly for your body type and size, however. Not doing so can cause injury.
  • Explore dance. Dancing is great for aerobic fitness, but also it builds strength and flexibility. I found that out last year, practicing for Dancing With the Stars. That was hard work, folks, and I'm in pretty good shape. Turns out, research shows that dance is great for the 50-plus crowd. It jazzes up (pardon the pun!) balance, coordination and body awareness. It also improves alignment and sleep, and counters lower back pain and joint difficulties.
  • Get wet. I used to train for tennis matches by swimming a couple times of week. Water exercise — which includes swimming and activities termed aqua aerobics, aqua exercise or water workouts — is ideal for older adults (even nonswimmers). It provides a low-impact workout for the heart and lungs, while strengthening and toning muscles. And if you have any chronic medical problems or you're recovering from surgery, water exercise is great for rehab.
  • Get a workout partner from hell. I love having a training partner who keeps me motivated. When looking for a partner, don't pick someone who will accommodate you when you don't feel like exercising. Find someone who will stand on your doorstep at 6 a.m. and remind you in no uncertain terms that it's time to go to the gym, go for a walk or jog, or get to the exercise class.
  • Commit. Once you decide on your weekly exercise routine, commit to a regular schedule and stick to it until it becomes a habit. Force yourself to show up at the gym or pool (your training partner from hell will help) even if you only work out for 10 or 15 minutes. Try to continue exercising even while you're on vacation.
  • Keep track. I'm a big believer in journaling — so keep some sort of fitness log. Write down when you've lost weight or inches, or when you've achieved an increase in the amount of weight you lift or the length of time you walk, jog or dance. Reward yourself with a little nonfood gift when you meet or exceed your fitness goals. Seeing your progress written down in black and white can really keep you motivated

And one more thing: Never start an exercise program without first talking to your physician and getting the OK to proceed.

See you at the gym!

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AARP fitness expert Martina Navratilova shows how to stretch for relaxation.

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