Improve your overall health with these age-appropriate tips

As we age, the body naturally begins to lose muscular strength, balance and flexibility. Metabolism slows and the immune system weakens, but this doesn’t mean wellness is beyond reach. In fact, a fitness routine, fueled by a heart-smart diet, may help rejuvenate and inspire you to make 50 the new 20.

GETTING STARTED

If you are starting from scratch — you haven’t exercised in years or ever — then safety should be your top priority. Don’t rush to the gym without some guidance from your doctor and then a trainer at whichever fitness center you choose. No pain, no gain is a myth. Exercise patience as well as your body to avoid injury.

FINDING BALANCE

A 2016 study published by the Gerontological Society of America showed an age-related decline in balance for both men and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s. One exercise had participants attempt to stand on one foot for a full minute. The average time of those in their 50s who were able to stand on one foot was 45 seconds. The time declined by 5 seconds for those in their 60s and by 10 seconds or more for those in their 70s. Use this simple exercise to practice and improve balance: Balance on one leg with your side near a wall, chair or counter for one minute. Lightly touch the wall if you feel unstable. Do this with both legs until you feel comfortable standing without support. Then try it again, extending your free leg forward (remember to steady yourself). When you get that down, try with your eyes closed.

STRETCH IT OUT

Natural aging coupled with working a desk job can negatively impact your hamstrings, back, neck and chest muscles. Before each workout, or even the start of your mornings, try some static stretching. Put your body into a position that elongates a particular muscle group and hold it. You should feel some tension in your muscles, but if there is pain, reduce the tension. The simple exercises you used to do in elementary school gym class are a great place to start:

  • Bend at the waist without bending your knees and try to touch your toes.
  • Stand flat-footed and reach up, hold, then slowly lower your arms to shoulder level.
  • Twist your torso to the left and hold, then to the right and hold.
  • Raise and lower your body weight on your toes.

STAY STRONG

Building or maintaining muscle mass as you age helps reduce loss in bone density, lowers the risk of falls and helps combat osteoporosis and heart disease. Start with light weights and over time slowly increase the weight. Keeping proper form while lifting is more important than the amount of weight you are lifting. Here are a few simple exercises you can try with dumbbells or no weights:

  • Overhead press: Sitting or standing, with a straight back and palms facing out, lift the weights upward from shoulder height, doing three sets of 10 lifts. This helps strengthen the upper back, arms and neck.
  • Squats: Lightly touch a chair or counter for balance. Keep your back straight and legs square with your shoulders. Slowly lower then raise your body. This will strengthen leg muscles and improve hip flexibility.
  • Elbow planks: Lie on your stomach, legs together, while resting on your forearms. Gently raise your body about six inches and hold the weight on your forearms. You can also try alternating sides of lifting your legs for balance.

LEAN ON BEANS

Fresh from the garden or from a can (remember to rinse away the extra salt), beans and legumes contain protein, fiber and a good concentration of minerals, without saturated fats. All of this can help improve blood cholesterol.

HOLD THE SALT

Typically, the sodium of boxed and canned food or food prepared in restaurants is high enough that extra salt isn’t needed. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day with an ideal daily limit of 1,500mg for most adults. Salt is the most common way to consume sodium. You can find it hidden in many different products like baking soda, baking powder, condiments and cereals.

It doesn’t get much easier, or more effective, than walking and drinking more water.

WALK AND WATER

It doesn’t get much easier, or more effective, than walking and drinking more water. These two basic functions will help you lose weight, maintain balance and coordination, strengthen bones and muscles, improve mood, relieve fatigue and help digestion. If you have a lunch hour, use half of it for a walk.

HAUL IN OATS

The list of benefits gained by incorporating oats into your diet is pretty impressive. Multiple studies show oats may lower the risk for Type 2 diabetes, improve insulin sensitivity, lower bad cholesterol and help control blood pressure.

FUELING YOUR 50s

As much as eating healthy is a no-brainer, it’s also something that’s easier said than done for millions of Americans. Just remember, it’s never too late to change your diet and experience the benefits of smarter, healthier eating.

GO GREEN

Not a fan of kale? There are plenty of other options to add more greens to your diet. These greens are low in fat and cholesterol and pack a bundle of the following nutrients:

  • Arugula: vitamins A, C and K and calcium.
  • Romaine lettuce: fiber, manganese, potassium, biotin, copper, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, phosphorus, chromium, magnesium, calcium and vitamins B1, C and B6.
  • Spinach: Niacin, zinc, protein, fiber, thiamin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese, vitamins A, C, E, K and B6.

BIG ON APPLES

A single medium- to large-sized apple contains 4g of fiber. Some of that comes in the form of pectin, a soluble fiber that may help lower bad cholesterol. The fiber also helps you feel full. A British study showed the antioxidant found in the skin of apples (quercetin) has also been linked to better lung function.