How To Start an Exercise Program At Any Age

By Althea Cameron

The benefits of exercise are well documented, and studies show that it is never too late to start exercising. The Centers for Disease Control Prevention points out that older adults can benefit greatly from even moderate amounts of physical activity. One benefit is reducing the risk of debilitating conditions such as developing high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes. Here are four points that you should consider if you are thinking about starting an exercise program after a period of inactivity.

Consult your doctor

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This step is extremely important, especially if you have been sedentary for a period of time. Your doctor will advise you on how much physical activity your body can handle and explain how you should move forward. Your doctor will also give you pointers on recovery, which will come in handy during your first few sessions.

Think of what you love doing . . . and do it

Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym. A walk around the neighborhood can be just as effective as time spent on a cardio machine if it means you stick to it regularly. Combining physical activity with a passion or hobby you have always wanted to do is a great way to start an exercise program and can also be a way of making new friends. If others rely on your joining them on a bike ride every week, you are less likely to give it up. 

If you used to be fit there is no reason why you can’t return to good form as you get older. Just as with those new to exercise, it’s important to start slow and gradually build up your strength and stamina. It can be worthwhile to hire a coach for a few sessions to help ease you back into your sport and advise you on additional routines to stay injury free.

Start a new sport

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It is never too late to start a new sport, and there are many health and social benefits that come with a new physical activity. Swimming is an excellent choice, as it is low impact, which can be better for joints.  An inspiration in this regard is Maurine Kornfield, who at 97 is the oldest active member of the 64,000-strong U.S. Masters Swimming. What’s more, she started swimming just before her 60th birthday and has since then set 16 world records for her age group. 

Also highly recommended is tennis. Melissa Neiman’s article on ‘5 Great Sports to Take Up After the Age 50’ notes that the benefits of playing tennis include “higher aerobic capacities, lower resting heart rate, and blood pressure responses, improved metabolic function, improved skeletal integrity, improved reaction time, and decreased stress reactivity.” 

Tennis, while largely high impact, is noted by Harvard Health to be a sport for life. It can be played even in your later years because it can be customized and slowed down (much like walking soccer) to suit your age and fitness level. You can, for instance, walk instead of sprint, volley rather than smash, or let a ball sail by rather than dive for it. These adjustments lower the impact in a way that even older adults can continue playing. This is the reason that former tennis pros like John McEnroe and Pete Sampras can still play, even after leaving the ATP Tour. While still having the ability to run around the court, McEnroe and Sampras have definitely had to adjust their games since. 

Recently, Sampras (47) played in an impromptu doubles exhibition at Indian Wells with Novak Djokovic as his teammate and fellow former professionals Tommy Haas (41) and John McEnroe (60) as their opponents. Sampras is one of the highest earning tennis stars of all-time due to his record-breaking Grand Slam haul, and he has continued to play exhibition matches well into his 40s. The fact that Sampras (and Haas and McEnroe for that matter) continue to play is proof that tennis isn’t just for people in their prime. There are even tennis clubs that focus on this demographic, and joining one is a great way to get involved in the sport. Not to mention, by doing this it will expand your social network, leading to opportunities to further improve your game as you develop.

Give structured exercise a chance

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You’ll need to step out from your comfort zone from time to time, especially if you don’t feel up to playing sport. Structured exercise programs such as yoga or Tai Chi can improve flexibility, enhance balance, and increase strength. A study focusing on how a ‘Structured Exercise Program Improves Mobility in All Older Adults’ underscores the importance of this type of approach, with the main takeaway being: Older adults who partake in “long-term, structured, moderate-intensity physical activity programs” have lower risks of mobility disability and frailty. It is also a good way to meet people who are also starting an exercise program.

Althea Cameron is a health and fitness writer, based in the UK. She is passionate about health, and the intersection with technology.