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April 25, 2012 Volume 33, No. 29

Middle-aged people need additional exercises to stay fit, MU experts say


Strengthening, aerobic, stretching and balance exercises are keys to feeling better

Ponce de León was right. He was just looking in the wrong place. 

There is a fountain of youth that can help older adults feel better and live longer. It’s called staying active.

Regular exercise can prevent many health problems that accompany aging. 

Adults more than age 50 need to add endurance activities, strength training, and stretching and balance exercises to maintain health and vigor, said Linda Rellergert, nutrition specialist for MU Extension.

“Endurance activities are those that increase breathing and heart rate,” Rellergert said. “They improve the health of heart, lungs and the circulatory system, and develop stamina.” 

Strength training is another important activity for aging adults. Weight-bearing exercises build muscle and bone and counteract the weakness and frailty that often come with aging, according to Stephen Ball, an associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology, who was awarded this month a William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence.

“Osteoporosis, the thinning of bones, is a major health risk for older adults,” Ball said. 

“One in two women and one in five men suffer from some level of osteoporosis.”

Strength training isn’t just about being fit, Ball said. 

“You have to maintain a certain amount of muscle just to get through the day, lift groceries, get out of a chair or play with your grandchildren.” 

Balance exercises can help reduce the chances of falling, Rellergert said. For example, come up on your toes and try to keep your balance. 

Start by holding the back of a chair, then release your hold and maintain your balance for the count of 10. As with most things, practice makes perfect.

 Stretching exercises, she said, help to keep your body limber by stretching muscles and tissues that hold your bones in place.

Try one or two stretches for each area of the body. 

Remember to warm up your muscles before stretching; don’t bounce while stretching and don’t hold your breath during a stretch, she said.

If you’ve been sedentary for some time, begin by talking with your physician. 

Once your doctor gives you the OK, Rellergert said, start slowly by adding just five to 10 minutes of activity to your day. 

It’s important to listen to your body and ignore the adage “no pain, no gain.”

“If you develop a pain, stop right away. Don’t try to work through the pain,” Rellergert said. “See a health professional to get it diagnosed before you continue.”

Growing older doesn’t mean you have to lose your independence or the ability to do everyday tasks. It’s never too late to start adding exercise to your health regime. 

Just a little sweat equity can go a long way toward aging gracefully.

 — Debbie Johnson