Answers to The Top 20 Exercise Questions

Editor’s note: We hear a lot about exercise, but we may not be aware of the basics we need to know, especially as we get older. Here, from the experts at Go4Life, a division of the National Institute on Aging, are the most important exercise questions and answers. Remember to always ask your doctor before starting or changing any exercise program:

1. I’m not particularly active, and I haven’t exercised in years. Is it safe for me to start now?

If you haven’t been active for a long time, it’s important to start out at a low level of effort and work your way up slowly. Beginning slowly will help you become more fit without straining your body. For example, you may want to start with walking, biking, or swimming at a comfortable pace and then gradually do more, or start strengthening exercises with 1- or 2-pound weights and gradually add heavier weights. You may want to talk with your doctor if you decide to start a vigorous exercise program or significantly increase your physical activity.

2. I have a medical condition (such as arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease). Is it safe for me to exercise?

Exercise is safe for almost everyone. In fact, studies show that people with arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease benefit from regular exercise and physical activity. In some cases, exercise actually can improve some of these conditions. You may want to talk with your doctor about how your health condition might affect your ability to be active.

3. Isn’t it better for older adults to “take it easy” and save their strength?

Regular physical activity is very important to the health and abilities of older people. In fact, studies show that “taking it easy” is risky. For the most part, when older people lose their ability to do things on their own, it doesn’t happen just because they’ve aged. It’s usually because they’re not active. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health, inactive people are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who are more active. Lack of physical activity also can lead to more visits to the doctor, more hospitalizations, and more use of medicines for a variety of illnesses.

4. How much physical activity do I need?

The goal is to achieve at least 150 minutes (2 12 hours) of moderate-intensity endurance activity a week. Being active at least 3 days a week is best, but doing anything is better than doing nothing at all. If you cannot do 150 minutes a week because of a health condition, do as much as your condition allows. Try to do all four types of exercises — endurance, balance, flexibility, and strength. Try to do strength exercises for all of your major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, but don’t do strength exercises of the same muscle group 2 days in a row.

5. How hard should I exercise?


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