Maybe you used to be more active, playing sports in college or biking to work in your twenties. As the years went by, perhaps your active lifestyle fell by the wayside, as career and family priorities took center stage. But in your middle and later years, getting regular exercise is even more important than when you were younger, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). There are many reasons for this, from helping to prevent bone loss and increasing muscle strength to reducing the risk of numerous age-related diseases, including heart disease.
If you haven’t prioritized your fitness in a while or have never been very active, you may feel confused about how to start, or worried that you’ll be unable to adjust to a healthy active lifestyle. You’re not alone—the AHA reports that in general, people become less physically active as they get older, with nearly 40 percent of people older than age 55 reporting no leisure-time physical activity at all.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition or your doctor has told you that you’re at risk for heart disease, it’s vital that you take steps now to get back on track with physical activity. Fortunately, getting the exercise you need doesn’t mean you must spend hours at the gym or engage in workouts that you don’t enjoy. Becoming more active can be as simple as taking that first step—through walking, or through other exercises that you can do from the comfort of your own home.
Try the following easy exercises for starters.
The AHA suggests beginning your exercise program with walking, the single most effective form of exercise to achieve heart health. The beauty of walking is that it allows you to increase your activity level in a way that is physically safe, easy, and free. The AHA reports that walking has the lowest dropout rate of any type of exercise, and studies show that you may increase your life expectancy by two hours for each hour that you spend walking.
Getting started is as easy as lacing up some comfortable shoes and walking out the door—walking for as few as 30 minutes a day, five days a week has proven benefits for your heart. If walking for a full 30 minutes feels daunting, start with five to 10 minutes and gradually increase the amount of time you spend walking over several weeks or months.
You can also break up your walking time into three 10-minute sessions per day instead of a full 30-minute session to achieve the same benefits. The Cleveland Clinic emphasizes that if you’ve been sedentary, it’s especially important to start slowly, gradually increasing the duration and intensity of your exercise rather than overdoing an exercise in the beginning.
Here are some ideas that the AHA recommends for incorporating walking into your daily life:
- Schedule a regular time for a short walk, such as before breakfast, after dinner, or both.
- Instead of driving to errands that are close by, such as a visit to the corner store, try walking instead.
- Volunteer to walk the dog on a daily basis.
- When driving to errands, instead of finding the closest parking spot, deliberately choose one farther away so that you can walk the extra distance.
- Wear your walking shoes when shopping and stroll a few extra laps around the mall or grocery store for exercise.
- For added challenge, choose a hilly walking route, or pick up your pace from easy to brisk.
You may not think that the physical activity that you do around the house counts as exercise, but the AHA recommends it as a comfortable, convenient, and safe way to fit in a workout. When you exercise at home, you can often combine it with other activities, such as talking with family members. It also makes it easier to squeeze in several short bouts of physical activity each day.
Here are some ideas of things you can do:
- Do housework and chores yourself rather than hiring someone else to do it—activities like vacuuming, dusting, mopping, and scrubbing all count as light workouts.
- Get into gardening: raking leaves, pruning trees, weeding, digging, and taking out trash all offer great exercise plus the chance to be outdoors.
- Make watching TV more active by sitting up and stretching instead of lying on the sofa.
- Stretch your muscles when you have to reach for items in high cupboards, or make a point to squat and bend when looking at items on floor level.
- Invest in some basic home exercise equipment, such as light hand weights, a simple stationary bike, or even a treadmill—you can then work out while listening to music or watching your favorite show.
Always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program, no matter how simple, to make sure that it’s right for your particular condition and fitness level. The Cleveland Clinic notes that people who suffer from heart disease, hypertension, or pulmonary conditions may need additional safety guidelines for exercise. While starting an exercise program when you’re not used to working out can be challenging, with your doctor’s support, you can find easy ways to make fitness work with your lifestyle and help your heart.