En español | Fitness should be simple, convenient and not cost an arm and a leg. Even the most earnest of good exercise intentions will fizzle quickly if the gym is too distant or you can't afford the fees, if you lack the high-tech gear you're convinced you need, or if you don't know how to craft a workout that yields meaningful results. Never mind the added obstacle of venturing out in nasty winter weather to burn a few calories.
To that end, here's an exercise regimen you can do at home, in minimal space and with next to no equipment. This probably won't set you up to win a triathlon, but it will help you attain and maintain sound fitness for healthful everyday living. Of course, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.
People age 50 and older need three things from their workout plan: aerobic conditioning, muscle strength and endurance, and core fitness, says Walter R. Thompson, Ph.D., regents professor in the Department of Kinesiology & Health at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Aerobic fitness is a key to heart health and helps the body move oxygen to tissues where it is needed — including the brain. Muscle strength and endurance help protect bones from osteoporosis and injuries. They also help prevent falls and lower the risk of strain from everyday tasks, such as lifting grandkids and shopping bags. And we need a strong, stable core to support everything our arms and legs do.
Aerobic conditioning "can be as simple as putting on some music or turning on the TV and marching in place," says Lynn Millar, Ph.D., a professor of physical therapy at Andrews University, in Berrien Springs, Mich., and a spokeswoman for the American College of Sports Medicine. If your space and fitness level allow it, you could jump rope, do jumping jacks, jog in place, hike up and down stairs or bounce on a mini trampoline.
The key is to work hard enough to get your heart rate up and keep it elevated for at least 10 minutes. More is better: Shoot for 20 to 30 minutes when starting out. Learn your target heart rate.
For leg strength and endurance Millar recommends "wall sits," which entail putting your back against a wall, feet on the floor and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. For added comfort, do this with a stability ball bracing your lower back. Hold for 15 seconds; repeat three times. (Once that gets easy, try 30-second holds.) To make the exercise more dynamic, you can rise up and down, back still against the wall, from that "seated" position; start with three sets of 10 repetitions.
For a whole range of strength training exercise, spend a few bucks on an exercise band, says Thompson. The bands, made of a strong, elastic, balloon-like material, come in various tensile strengths and allow you to do everything from bicep curls and shoulder presses to rowing-like motions (for back and triceps muscles). All you need is something — like your foot, a banister or bed post — to anchor one end of the band while you pull, push or otherwise move the other end. "It's like weightlifting," Thompson says, "without getting under a bunch of weights."
Good endurance exercises, he adds, include push-ups and curl-ups. "You're not trying to create a lot of resistance," Thompson notes. The goal is to condition your muscle to work longer without tiring.
If you can't do standard push-ups, try them with your knees on the floor. If that's too hard, do them against a wall while standing. However you do them, keep your back straight and your torso tight.
Curl-ups are like sit-ups (see description below) but should be done slowly, with arms at your side — not behind your head — and palms touching the floor. Flatten your lower back and come up enough to raise your shoulder blades off the floor before lowering slowly back down.
If you want to add gear to some of these muscle exercises, Millar suggests a set of dumbbells — 5 to 10 pounds for most people, slightly heavier for stronger men. Use these for biceps curls, shoulder press, bench press and other weight-training exercises.
For core strengthening, Millar recommends:
- Sit-ups: Lying on your back, feet flat on the floor, knees bent and together, come up enough to feel the engagement in your abs, then lower back down. Keep your chin off your chest and do not pull on the back of your head with your hands. Start with two sets of 15 and increase to 30, if that gets too easy.
- Side plank: Lie on your side, propped up on one elbow and raise your torso off the floor. Start by using your knee as the other contact point with the floor; eventually you want to have the knee and calf off the ground, balancing on your elbow and the side of one foot. Do three sets of 15 seconds; work up to 30-second reps.
- Bird dog: From all fours, extend one arm out in front and the opposite-side leg out behind you, with your face pointing at the ground. This shouldn't be hard, Millar says: It is a stabilization exercise for your spine. Again, three sets of 15 seconds, striving for 30-second holds. (See the Dr. Oz video titled "Rickety Table.")
- Bicycle kicks: Lying on your back, pedal your legs in a cycling motion pointed at the ceiling. Try three sets of 30 seconds each. If that gets too easy, move your legs slightly toward the floor to increase the demand on your abdominal muscles.
How much exercise is enough?
As for how much to work out, The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise — or 75 minutes of intense exercise — every week. "Most of us do moderate exercise," Thompson says, "so that's 30 minutes of exercise five days of week."
Your regimen should also include proper stretching, experts say.
There you have it: simple, effective, low-cost exercises you can do at home. If you still have excuses for slacking, share them in the comments section so we can help get you moving!
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