En español | With many gyms closed and our usual routines upended, it's fair to say your 2021 fitness resolutions probably look a bit different from last year's. Indeed, social distancing has already changed how many of us exercise. “The silver lining of the pandemic is people looking to work out have discovered they can pretty much do it anywhere, whether it's a walk outdoors or bodyweight exercises in their living room,” says Pamela Peeke, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and author of Fit to Live. As she sees it, “The entire COVID-19 experience has been a wake-up call, with many adults, especially those over the age of 50, realizing how important it is to be in good health.” But like everything in life, sometimes the best results come with baby steps or subtle tweaks, rather than all-out makeovers. Here are five easy, doable fitness resolutions to adopt today.
1. Sit an hour less each day
Over 40 percent of all U.S. adults reported sitting for more than eight hours a day during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a December 2020 study published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports. While that may be understandable, it's not good: “Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels, weight gain and high cholesterol, all of which in themselves raise your risk of complications from COVID-19,” Peeke explains.
Resolve to slash your sitting time by simply setting the timer on your phone to take a break from sitting every half hour, recommends Peeke. She also suggests purchasing a mini-trampoline (available online for less than $150). “Even simply standing on it for five minutes improves balance and stability, and strengthens your core,” she explains. You could also try doing jumping jacks or jumping up and down for a few minutes. “This is great for overall bone health, since it stimulates the growth of osteoblasts, the cells that grow new bone,” she says. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science found that trampolining increases bone density and strength.
2. Work in once-a-week yoga
This winter could be a good time to look into all the yoga classes available online. “Yoga's superb for balance and flexibility, both of which decrease with age,” Peeke notes. “It's also less wear and tear on your body than doing CrossFit.”
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A University of Michigan review analyzed studies of yoga among older adults and concluded it can boost bone mineral density, increase physical fitness, relieve osteoarthritis pain, and even help improve sleep and depression. Another 2017 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that older adults who attended yoga classes twice weekly for eight weeks experienced 48 percent fewer falls in the six months after the sessions began, compared to the prior six months. Peek says that could be related to how yoga “strengthens your core, enhances your stability and makes you more aware of how you move."
Hatha yoga, restorative yoga, and yoga with chair exercises are usually best for older adults, as they're slower paced, she adds. You can find a variety of free online classes geared toward beginners or older adults at sites like AARP's, as well as ymca360.org, yogawithadriene.com or silversneakers.com (which is free through select Medicare plans).
3. Stand straighter with 3 key moves
Posture tends to decline with age, as the discs in your spine harden and lose flexibility, causing you to tilt forward (a condition known as senile kyphosis). But some simple stretching exercises can slow down this process by improving spinal flexibility, says Gil Kentof, a chiropractor in Franklin, Tennessee. He recommends these three exercises, which you should do two to three times a week.
- Pelvic Elevation. Lie on your back on the carpet with your knees bent. Lift your butt off the floor to create a bridge with your back. Hold this position for three seconds and then lower back down flat. Repeat two sets of 10 repetitions.
- Knee-to-Chest. Lie on your back and pull one knee up toward your opposite shoulder as you pull it toward your chest. Hold for five seconds. Repeat with the other leg. Do this five times with each leg, by pulling the knee up toward the opposite shoulder and holding for a good stretch in the hip area.
- Snow Angel. Lie on your back with your arms to your sides and your palms up. Move your hands up toward your head, keeping arms as flat to the floor as possible. This will help keep your upper back posture from dropping forward.
4. Turn your walk into a workout
Intervals, or short bursts of more intense exercise, added on to a moderate workout have proven longevity benefits. You can reap the potentially life-lengthening rewards simply by alternating 30 to 60 seconds of faster walking to your regular daily strolls. Those in better shape can try adding short bits of jogging into a brisk walk, suggests Peeke.
When Mayo Clinic researchers studied the effects of interval training on people ages 65 to 80, they found that some of the age-related deterioration of muscle cells had been reversed. The study, published in Cell Metabolism, found that this type of training even triggered the growth of new muscle, counteracting the natural muscle loss that occurs with growing older. It can benefit your brain, too: Older adults who exercised using short bursts of activity saw up to a 30 percent improvement in memory performance compared to those who did a more moderate workout, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.
5. Find a virtual fitness buddy
If your basement workout's feeling pretty ho-hum by now, synching up with a buddy over Zoom or FaceTime to lift weights or do cardio together could help provide the encouragement to help you stay active in 2021, says Jaclyn Maher, assistant professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. “It's a good way to hold yourself accountable, and you can also try different fitness apps such as FitOn to schedule workouts at the same time that you can do together virtually,” she says.
One Michigan State University study, for example, found that working out with a virtual partner — human or computer generated — increased motivation to complete exercise. Making your workout buddy someone close to your age seems to provide the greatest benefit: A 2018 study published in the journal Health Psychology found that older adults are more likely to stick to an exercise program if they do it with people in their age group.