As the Heart Ages: An Exercise Plan

As you get older, you may find it more difficult to begin or maintain a regular exercise routine.

You are never too old to exercise. And, with caution, you can overcome the challenges of an ongoing health problem or the fear of falling or injuring yourself.

Why exercise is important

According to the American Heart Association, maintaining or increasing your physical activity after age 65 can improve your heart’s function and lower your risk of heart attack and heart disease. Regular exercise also controls blood pressure and strengthens the heart.

Exercising daily promotes flexibility in the arteries, the vessels that carry blood throughout the body. This allows blood to flow normally and helps to keep blood pressure at a safe level.

According to A.D.A.M., UI Health Care’s on-line medical library, physically inactive people have a 35 percent greater risk of developing high blood pressure over those who are active. Similarly, people who live an active lifestyle have a 45 percent lower risk of developing heart disease than those who are inactive.

Finding a routine that fits your needs

The key to long-term success is developing an exercise routine that works best for your personal needs.

Make sure to meet with your physician prior to beginning your exercise routine. Your physician can help you find a routine that works with a chronic condition or injury you may have.

A stress test can also help determine your risk of heart complications during exercise. If you have a heart condition or a history of heart disease, a stress test may help determine the right exercise program for you.

Know the limitations

If you are over 40, consider these questions with your doctor to determine your risk of developing heart disease:

  • Has a doctor recommended medically supervised activity because of a heart condition?
  • Do you have chest pain during or after exercise?
  • Have you had chest pain within the last month?
  • Do you feel dizzy to the point where you faint or fall over?
  • Do you have bone or join pain that increases during or after exercise?
  • Are you taking medication for a heart problem or high blood pressure?
  • Has your doctor instructed you not to exercise without medical supervision due to a physical issue?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your doctor may recommend having a medical examination prior to beginning an exercise routine.

The American Heart Association recommends older adults aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week.

If you’re just beginning, it’s important to pace yourself. Start out with 10 to 15 minutes of aerobic activity and gradually increase the time or difficulty of your routine.

A few aerobic activities include:

  • Walking briskly
  • Jogging
  • Swimming or water aerobics
  • Dancing
  • Biking
  • Climbing stairs

A final note

If you have a condition such as uncontrolled diabetes, seizures, high blood pressure, heart failure, or have had a heart attack within the last six months, be sure your doctor carefully monitors your exercise routine.